The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) is seeking comments from around the world on its draft “Principles on National Security and Right to Information.” The aim of the project is to provide a resource for people engaged in drafting, revising or implementing laws or provisions relating to the government’s authority to withhold information on national security grounds or to penalize the publication of such information. It is scheduled to be completed in April 2013.
The Principles are based on international and national laws and standards, evolving state practice, the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations, and the writings of experts.
These Principles address national security—rather than all grounds for withholding information—in order to start the process of developing consensus concerning the parameters of permissible restrictions on public grounds. National security is the weightiest public ground for restricting information so that all other public grounds for restricting access must at least meet these standards.
The drafters of the Principles relied on numerous studies, intergovernmental and governmental reports, international instruments, court judgments, and expert papers. A selection of these papers and the draft principles are available on http://www.right2info.org/exceptions-to-access/national-security.
Ms Sandra Coliver, Senior Legal Officer, Freedom of Information & Expression at OSJI presented an overview of the project in testimony to the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on December 11, 2012.
Ms Coliver explained in her testimony: “The hope of the drafters is that these Principles will help people in countries grappling with these vexing challenges, many for the first time, to set down legal and policy frameworks that will promote improved democratic oversight of national security information and thereby encourage better informed decision-making; reduce opportunities for hiding corruption and incompetence; improve procedures for safeguarding information whose disclosure would likely cause overriding harm; increase protection of human rights; promote more effective parliamentary and judicial oversight; and enhance genuine security for nations and their people.”
According to her, the effort has involved extensive consultation with experts worldwide. She told the committee, “The draft before you thus represents the work of some 400 experts from 73 countries who met at a total of nine meetings in 2011 and 2012.” She said commentaries are being prepared that will set forth support for each principle.
She said one topic still being researched is the maximum classification periods for national security information. Such information has been collected from 19 Council of Europe member states while information from other countries is being requested.
Full text of the principles may also be downloaded in Microsoft Word format from http://www.right2info.org/resources/publications/national-security-principles-12.17.12. Comments on the draft principles may be sent to Ms Coliver by email through Sandra.Coliver@opensocietyfoundations.org.