Who is Responsible for Applying CUI Markings and Dissemination Instructions?






Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) is a category of unclassified but sensitive information that requires protection against unauthorized access, dissemination, or release. CUI markings and dissemination instructions are essential components of managing this type of information. But who is responsible for applying CUI markings and disseminating instructions? In this article, we will delve into the roles and responsibilities associated with CUI markings, the various categories of CUI, and the importance of safeguarding and properly sharing sensitive but unclassified information.

What is Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI)?

Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) is a classification used in the United States to identify sensitive but unclassified information that is not classified as confidential, secret, or top-secret. It encompasses a broad range of data, including proprietary business information, personally identifiable information (PII), critical infrastructure data, export-controlled information, law enforcement sensitive information, and more.

CUI Markings and Dissemination Instructions

CUI markings and dissemination instructions are tools used to manage and protect sensitive unclassified information. These markings provide clear guidance on how the information should be handled, shared, and protected. The CUI program standardizes the way sensitive information is marked and disseminated, ensuring that it is properly safeguarded.

Responsibilities for Applying CUI Markings

The individual or entity that creates the document or information is responsible for marking it as CUI.

The originator must determine the sensitivity of the information and whether it falls under the CUI category.

They must apply the appropriate CUI markings, such as the CUI banner, control markings, and dissemination markings, if applicable.

Designated Senior Agency Official (SAO):

The SAO plays a critical role in overseeing CUI programs within federal agencies.

They ensure that the agency’s CUI program is compliant with federal regulations and that personnel are trained on CUI handling.

The SAO may establish agency-specific policies and procedures for marking and managing CUI.

Information Security Professionals:

Security professionals, including Information Security Officers (ISOs) and Information Security Managers (ISMs), help implement CUI policies and procedures within their organizations.

They provide guidance on the proper application of CUI markings and ensure that systems and networks are secure to protect CUI.

Employees and Contractors:

All employees and contractors who handle CUI must be aware of their responsibilities regarding markings and dissemination.

They should understand the agency’s CUI policies and procedures and apply the appropriate markings to documents, files, or information systems containing CUI.

Responsibilities for Disseminating CUI

The originator or author of the CUI document is responsible for determining who is authorized to receive it and including dissemination instructions as needed.

They specify whether the information can be shared with a broader audience or if it is limited to a specific group or individual.

Authorized Recipients:

Those who are authorized to receive CUI must follow the dissemination instructions provided by the originator.

Authorized recipients have a responsibility to safeguard the information according to the specified controls and restrictions.

CUI Program Managers:

CUI Program Managers within agencies ensure that information is disseminated only to authorized recipients.

They may provide oversight and guidance on sharing CUI information, ensuring that the dissemination instructions are adhered to.

Controlled Access:

Access to CUI should be controlled to prevent unauthorized dissemination.

Agencies often employ access control measures, including secure databases, secure email systems, and encrypted communication, to protect CUI during dissemination.

Categories of CUI and Dissemination Instructions

CUI includes multiple categories, each with specific dissemination instructions. Some of the common categories of CUI include:

Controlled Unclassified Information – Basic (CUI-B):

This category includes the most common forms of CUI, such as personally identifiable information (PII) and certain proprietary business information.

Dissemination instructions for CUI-B often involve limiting access to authorized personnel and encrypting electronic transmissions.

Critical Infrastructure Information (CII):

CII is information related to the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as energy, transportation, and communication systems.

Dissemination instructions for CII are often stricter, with access limited to those with a specific need-to-know and robust security measures in place.

For Official Use Only (FOUO):

FOUO information is used by the federal government but is not classified.

Dissemination instructions for FOUO may specify that it is for official use only and should not be shared with the public or unauthorized personnel.

Law Enforcement Sensitive (LES):

LES information is used in law enforcement and criminal justice activities.

Dissemination instructions for LES may restrict access to authorized law enforcement personnel and agencies.

Export-Controlled Information:

Information subject to export control regulations is limited in its dissemination to ensure compliance with export laws and regulations.

Importance of Properly Applying CUI Markings and Dissemination Instructions

Properly applying CUI markings and dissemination instructions is vital for several reasons:

Security: CUI often contains sensitive information that, if mishandled, could pose security risks. Markings and instructions ensure that it is adequately safeguarded.

Compliance: Federal agencies and organizations handling CUI must comply with regulations governing its protection. Accurate markings and dissemination instructions are essential for compliance.

Protection of Privacy: Many categories of CUI contain personal information or proprietary data that must be protected to safeguard individuals’ privacy and businesses’ interests.

Avoiding Unauthorized Access: By clearly defining who is authorized to receive CUI and how it should be disseminated, the risk of unauthorized access or leaks is minimized.

Legal and Regulatory Consequences: Failure to properly handle and protect CUI can result in legal and regulatory consequences, which can include fines, penalties, and reputational damage.


Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) is a crucial category of sensitive but unclassified information. Responsibility for applying CUI markings and disseminating instructions falls on a combination of individuals, including the originator or author, designated agency officials, information security professionals, employees, contractors, and authorized recipients. Properly applying these markings and following the dissemination instructions are essential for ensuring security, compliance, privacy protection, and preventing unauthorized access to sensitive information. CUI categories, such as CUI-B, CII, FOUO, LES, and export-controlled information, have specific dissemination instructions tailored to their sensitivity and intended recipients. Following these guidelines is imperative for organizations and agencies that handle CUI, as mishandling or neglecting the importance of proper markings can lead to serious legal, regulatory, and security consequences.