Information designated as SSI cannot be shared with the general public, and it is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
In May 2004 the TSA announced that the SSI designation was being expanded to include maritime security.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created to take responsibility for the security of all modes of public transportation. Included in the responsibilities of this new agency was the authority to designate information as Sensitive Security Information (SSI). Originally housed in the Department of Transportation, the TSA was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a result of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
There are 16 categories of SSI of which there are 3 types. 4 of the categories are termed “categorical” and are automatically designated as SSI. Eleven of the categories require a judgment or analysis to receive an SSI designation and one category is termed as ‘other’ and is determined by a written request from an authorized office.
Information receiving SSI designation includes but is not limited to:
In September of 2004, two members of the House Appropriations Committee requested that auditors review how the Homeland Security Department is using its authority to withhold transportation security information from the public. The concern is that material needs to be protected, but the public also needst to be advised of information that affects their safety and security.
Some examples in question were:
It was determined that the TSA's application of the SSI regulations has resulted in some disputes over airport security procedures, employee accountability, passenger screening, and airport secrecy agreements. Some believe that ‘’too much’’ information has been withheld from the public regarding some of these circumstances.
The resulting opinion was that sensitive material needs to be protected, but the public also needs to be informed of information that affects safety and security. "Although the release of certain sensitive information could put the nation's citizens and infrastructure at risk, the federal government should be mindful of the public's legitimate interest in, and right to know, information related to threats to the transportation system and associated vulnerabilities. Accordingly, access to this information should only be limited when it is necessary to guard against those who pose a threat and their ability to develop techniques to subvert security measures."