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Classified information is a term applied to material that a government or group of governments claims is sensitive information that requires secrecy based on national or regional security needs. Access is restricted by law or regulation to particular groups of persons and mishandling can incur criminal penalties. A formal security clearance is often required to handle classified documents or access classified data. The clearance process usually requires a satisfactory background investigation. There are typically several hierarchical levels of sensitivity, with differing clearance requirements. The term refers to the formal categorization and marking of material by level of sensitivity but it has developed a sense synonymous with "censored" in US English. The act of assigning the level of sensitivity to data is called data classification. A distinction is often made between formal security classification and privacy markings such as "commercial in confidence". Specific practices and terminology vary by country and language. Some corporations and non-government organizations also assign sensitive information to multiple levels of protection, either from a desire to protect trade secrets, or because of laws and regulations governing various matters such as personal privacy, sealed legal proceedings and the timing of financial information releases. (via Freebase)