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Classified information

Classified information is secret information to which access is restricted by law or corporate rules to a particular hierarchical class of people. A security clearance is permission to view a particular classified document or class of information, often requiring a satisfactory background check. This sort of hierarchical system of secrecy is used by virtually every national government, and by many corporations as well.

The desired degree of secrecy about such information is known as its sensitivity. It is often the case that sensitive information is disseminated on the basis of need-to-know, the assertion that if an individual needs to know certain information in order to satisfactorily perform her or his function in the organization, their viewing of that information is authorized, otherwise it is not.

Such information is called "classified" because it falls into a certain classification of secrecy. Information which isn't secret is called unclassified information, which carries the doublespeak implication that the natural state of information is to be classified, in other words, to be made secret.

The United States government, for example, has a formal hierarchy of classification for secrets:

Classified U.S. government documents are required to be stamped with their classification at the top and bottom of each page, and there are various other regulations for the handling and storage of such documents.

The classification scheme of course varies between organizations; for example, in Canada information which the U.S. would classify SBU is called "protected," and further subcategorized into levels A, B, and C.