A formal security clearance is required to view or handle classified documents or to access classified data. The clearance process requires a satisfactory background investigation. Documents and other information must be properly marked "by the author" with one of several (hierarchical) levels of sensitivity—e. g. restricted, confidential, secret and top secret. The choice of level is based on an impact assessment; governments have their own criteria, which include how to determine the classification of an information asset, and rules on how to protect information classified at each level. This often includes security clearances for personnel handling the information.
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