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What Do the Different Types of Government Classification Mean for Emails?

Image of James Comey via CNNDirector James Comey gave a press conference on Tuesday detailing the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton‘s emails and her private email server. During his statement, he made reference to three levels of classification of the emails: Top Secret, Secret, and Confidential.

“From the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 110 e-mails and 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information,” Comey said.

Each of these three classifications have different meanings and different people who have the ability to access and read them. These classifications were put in place by Executive Order 13526, which were signed by President Obama in December 2009. They are meant to protect the United States’ national secrets such as military plans, nuclear weapon sites, foreign government information, and intelligence activities. So for all of you that were confused by what the classifications meant, here is Lawnewz’s take on the classifications.

Top Secret means exactly what it sounds like. It is the most sensitive material and the material that could potentially cause the most damage to the United States. The Executive Order states, “‘Top Secret’ shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe.”A Top Secret security clearance can only be granted by the President, Vice President, or an agency head such a member of the cabinet or a member of Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is typically granted to the most senior officials in the government and the military.

Secret is the second highest level of classification and is given to information that could cause damage to national security if released, but is not considered to be the most dangerous information. From the Executive Order: “‘Secret’ shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe.” Secret must also be granted by the President, Vice President or an agency head, but is granted to a wider range of people.

Confidential is the lowest level of secure classification and is given to information that could cause some damage to national security, but would not be expected to cause significant damage. The Executive Order says: “‘Confidential’ shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe.” Confidential is also granted from the same people as Secret classification and is given to most members of the government.

 

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