- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana officials are considering changes to a new information technology policy after hearing concerns from freedom of information advocates.

The policy requires state agencies to classify all data as public, confidential, secret or top secret, reported The Missoulian (http://bit.ly/1N73Csd ).

Those words raised concerns for the Montana Freedom of Information Act Hotline board. Chairwoman Melody Martinsen says board members worry that categories like “secret” and “top secret” could be used by state officials to conceal information that should be public.

“It’s my sense that this is not an effort to try to hide documents,” said Mike Meloy, an attorney who works with the media on public information requests. “But any time you impose some hurdle that a person has to go over to access a document, it presents a problem.”

The policy was approved by the Montana Information Technology Managers Council this fall. Its creators said the categories make sense in the context information technology and weren’t intended to reflect any change in the documents’ legal statuses.

“I am an IT person - I have that geeky hat on,” Montana chief information officer Ron Baldwin said last week. “I’m just thinking about information technology and did not think beyond the boundaries of what this policy is for.”

IT officials met with the FOI hotline board Friday to learn more about advocates’ concerns.

Chief information security officer Lynne Pizzini says officials are open to changing category names and adding language that says the classifications are to be used for data security only.

“We never intended it to restrict access to the public for any documents they have the right to see,” she said.

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Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com

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