Government imposes SOPs to protect classified information


ISLAMABAD: The Cabinet Division, on the directions of the federal government, has imposed restrictions on the circulation of agenda of cabinet meetings to Press Information Department (PID) before the meetings take place and the ministers and other officials have also been banned from publicly sharing such details, Pakistan Today has learnt.

Sources familiar with the development informed this scribe that the federal cabinet has approved standard operating procedures (SOPs) for maintaining the secrecy of cabinet documents and part of this is the restriction on circulating agenda to the PID before the meetings. Similarly, federal ministers, secretaries, special assistants to the prime minister and other officials have been asked to avoid discussing or commenting on the proceedings publicly as the spokesperson of a said department or ministry would deal with the media, sources added. To further maintain secrecy, sources said, unsafe channels for transmitting information have been strictly prohibited. Sources further said that media personnel would not be allowed into places where classified information is processed and in case of violation or breach of security under the new SOPs, strict and prompt action would be taken.

According to a draft of the new SOPs, all cabinet papers, including summaries, agenda, minutes and divisions are classified as secret and are dispatched, when required, in double and properly sealed covers with the inner cover being stamped/marked as “To be opened by the addressee only”. The cabinet members are required to return the classified papers in a similar manner to the Cabinet Division. In case of any hint of the documents being tampered with, the addressees are instructed to report to the Cabinet Division immediately.

It is worth noting here that it has been observed that due to heavy engagements of the cabinet members, the papers are often handled by the staff of that particular member and in this case, it has been instructed that the staff member who has been deputed to deal with classified papers, should only handle them and that particular staffer would be held responsible for any breaches or leaks.

In order to keep the documents secure, restrictions have been imposed on the medium of transmitting those documents and using the internet and fax machines has been ruled out of the picture. Photographing, scanning, copying of the documents by anyone other than the named recipient has also been strictly prohibited.

It is also learnt that upon returning the documents to the Cabinet Division, the recipient would be required to sign a certain document undertaking that the said documents have been returned within 24 hours of receipt and have not been photographed, copied or scanned by anyone other than that recipient and have been sealed in the envelope in that person’s presence.

Furthermore, additional measures are also taken, including the installation of CCTV cameras in photocopy room, envelop sealing room and corridors of the Cabinet Division. A computer system has also been designated for preparing and printing such documents and using external storage devices and transmitting data from the system over the internet has also been prohibited and everything done on the computer system would be under the strict surveillance of the Cabinet Division.

It is pertinent to mention here that the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, prior to assuming power, had demanded transparency in the decisions of the federal government but after assuming power, has imposed restrictions on sharing information with the general public.