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Sharing Information with Foreign Partners

Strong and effective cooperation with our foreign partners is a vital component of the global war on terrorism. The President recognized the need to share information with foreign partners in his December 16, 2005, Memorandum to the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies. Accordingly, the sharing of terrorism-related information between Federal departments and agencies and foreign partners and allies forms a critical component of our information sharing strategy.

The counterterrorism mission requires sharing many types of terrorism-related information, for example, the exchange of biographic and biometric information related to known or suspected terrorists. While such sharing often includes classified information and sensitive diplomatic, law enforcement, and homeland security information relating to terrorism, it also encompasses other information that, over time, may help reveal links to terrorist groups or individuals. Information regarding lost or stolen passports and suspect financial transactions, for example, might yield information on groups or persons who subsequently are linked to a specific terrorist threat. In addition to asking for such information from other countries, it is also essential that we appropriately share similar types of information with foreign governments or foreign law enforcement entities, such as INTERPOL, as long as the sharing of any records about American citizens and lawful permanent residents data is subject to the Privacy Act of 1974 limitations, especially regarding personally identifiable information.

Information sharing with foreign partners is a key component of international outreach and cooperation to protect U.S. critical infrastructure. Given the often sensitive nature of the information shared, we will continue to enter into agreements and other understandings with foreign governments to ensure appropriate security and confidentiality of exchanged information. We must also expect that foreign governments will seek the same assurances from us. As a general rule, such agreements and understandings should seek sufficient security of information while also permitting flexible handling of the exchanged information to allow practical use. We must strive to ensure that safeguarding and handling restrictions are calibrated to maximize both the quantity and quality of information shared with, or received from, a foreign government. To the maximum extent possible, we will adopt and adhere to commonly accepted and standard safeguarding and handling restrictions.

There is the basic requirement that shared information be appropriately safeguarded and protected from public disclosure. Our foreign partners at times may ask us to agree to particular restrictions on the dissemination or use of the information. While it is preferable to avoid such restrictions, it may be necessary in certain circumstances to accept some limitations as a condition for receiving information with particularly high value. How we proceed in such situations will depend on the circumstances presented and our need for the information at issue. Our guiding objective will be to ensure that information received from a foreign government can be disseminated as broadly as possible and used for critical counterterrorism purposes.

Similar challenges arise in regard to sharing information with foreign governments that may contain personal data about United States citizens and permanent residents. In particular, the Privacy Act of 1974 confers certain protections upon information concerning citizens and lawful permanent residents. Accordingly and especially given considerations of reciprocity, we must remain sensitive to the potential impact on our citizens and lawful residents of sharing information involving U.S. persons with foreign partners. The United States must carry out its counterterrorism mission while also ensuring that appropriate protection of information regarding our citizens and lawful permanent residents. As part of approving the recommendations submitted to improve information sharing with foreign governments, the President directed that the potential impact on United States persons be considered when evaluating a proposed information sharing arrangement with a foreign government.

Special considerations present themselves in the area of sharing classified information with foreign governments. Such sharing will continue to occur in a relatively formal context, to account for the need to properly secure and limit disclosure of the information. Indeed, decisions of whether to share our Nation's classified information are extraordinarily sensitive and will be made with the utmost care. Our officials must remain cognizant of the imperative to our national security mission of maximizing the sharing of terrorism-related information, while also taking care to ensure that sharing arrangements do not result in the unintended compromising of our national security.

In summary, strong partnerships and trusted collaboration with foreign governments are essential components of the war on terror. Effective and substantial cooperation with our foreign partners requires sustained liaison efforts, timeliness, flexibility, and the mutually beneficial exchange of many forms of terrorism-related information. The strategic objectives for sharing information with foreign partners can be broadly summarized as follows:

  • Expanding and facilitating the appropriate and timely sharing of terrorism-related information between the United States and our foreign partners;

  • Ensuring that exchanges of information between the United States and foreign governments are accompanied by proper and carefully calibrated security requirements;

  • Ensuring that information received by Federal agencies from a foreign government under a sharing arrangement: (1) is provided to appropriate subject matter experts for interpretation, evaluation, and analysis; and (2) can be disseminated and used to advance our Nation's counterterrorism objectives;

  • Refining and drawing upon sets of best practices and common standards in negotiating sharing arrangements with foreign governments; and

  • Developing standards and practices to verify that sharing arrangements with foreign governments appropriately consider and protect the information privacy and other legal rights of Americans.