These Principles were developed in order to provide guidance to those engaged in drafting, revising, or implementing laws or provisions relating to the state’s authority to withhold information on national security grounds or to punish the disclosure of such information.
They are based on international (including regional) and national law, standards, good practices, and the writings of experts.
They address national security—rather than all grounds for withholding information. All other public grounds for restricting access should at least meet these standards.
These Principles were drafted by 22 organizations and academic centres (listed in the Annex) in consultation with more than 500 experts from more than 70 countries at 14 meetings held around the world, facilitated by the Open Society Justice Initiative, and in consultation with the four special rapporteurs on freedom of expression and/or media freedom and the special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights:
National security and the public’s right to know are often viewed as pulling in opposite directions. While there is at times a tension between a government’s desire to keep information secret on national security grounds and the public’s right to information held by public authorities, a clear-eyed review of recent history suggests that legitimate national security interests are, in practice, best protected when the public is well informed about the state’s activities, including those undertaken to protect national security. ii
Access to information, by enabling public scrutiny of state action, not only safeguards against abuse by public officials but also permits the public to play a role in determining the policies of the state and thereby forms a crucial component of genuine national security, democratic participation, and sound policy formulation. In order to protect the full exercise of human rights, in certain circumstances it may be necessary to keep information secret to protect legitimate national security interests.
Striking the right balance is made all the more challenging by the fact that courts in many countries demonstrate the least independence and greatest deference to the claims of government when national security is invoked. This deference is reinforced by provisions in the security laws of many countries that trigger exceptions to the right to information as well as to ordinary rules of evidence and rights of the accused upon a minimal showing, or even the mere assertion by the government, of a national security risk. A government’s over-invocation of national security concerns can seriously undermine the main institutional safeguards against government abuse: independence of the courts, the rule of law, legislative oversight, media freedom, and open government.
These Principles respond to the above-described longstanding challenges as well as to the fact that, in recent years, a significant number of states around the world have embarked on adopting or revising classification regimes and related laws. This trend in turn has been sparked by several developments. Perhaps most significant has been the rapid adoption of access to information laws since the fall of the Berlin Wall, with the result that, as of the date that these Principles were issued, more than 5.2 billion people in 95 countries around the world enjoy the right of access to information—at least in law, if not in practice. People in these countries are—often for the first time—grappling with the question of whether and under what circumstances information may be kept secret. Other developments contributing to an increase in proposed secrecy legislation have been government responses to terrorism or the threat of terrorism, and an interest in having secrecy regulated by law in the context of democratic transitions. Continue reading GLOBAL PRINCIPLES ON NATIONAL SECURITY AND THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION→