The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn, today released a report on a review of the New Zealand Security Classification System.
Cheryl Gwyn says, “This review was aimed at identifying improvements that could be made to the classification system. The system is a set of policies and rules for identifying, marking, handling and controlling access to sensitive official information. Classifications range from “in confidence” to “top secret”.
“In common with classification systems elsewhere, the New Zealand system is often criticised by users for being difficult to understand and apply. Over-classification is also a common concern. It causes excessive restrictions on access to information, which is a problem for both security and transparency. It also brings unnecessary cost.
“The review recommends a simplification of the classification system, reducing the number of classifications from six to three. The lowest, ‘Protected’ would be for sensitive information that can be held and transmitted on common internet-connected government information systems. Two higher classifications, ‘Secret’ and ‘Top Secret’, would be for highly sensitive information needing the special protection of information systems isolated from the internet.
“The underlying idea is that a simpler system will make it easier for people to get classification right,” says Cheryl Gwyn. “The suggested change reflects the reality of digital information systems, while the existing classification system comes from the time of paper records.
“The review also recommends a new approach to systematic declassification of historic classified records, focused on topics of interest.
“Unlike other inquiries and reviews by my office, there is no obligation or expectation that my recommendations on classification must be adopted.
“This review is a voluntary independent contribution to a broader review of protective security being led by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS).
“Any change to the classification system would require broader consultation than I have been able to undertake. Ultimately it will be up to DPMC and NZSIS to work out what change is viable and take proposals to Cabinet.”
The report is available at www.igis.govt.nz/Publications/IGIS Reports/
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