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Petitioner v. Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional (Secretary of National Defense)

Case number:
1034/05
Country:
Mexico
Date of decision:
21 September 2005
Court / Arbiter:
Information Commission (Instituto General de Acceso a la Informacion Publica, or IFAI). ( Supreme )

Relevant law :
Federal Transparency and Access to Public Governmental Information Law (RTI Law), Articles 13(IV), 18(II), General Guidelines for the Classification and Declassification of Information of Federal Public Agencies, Articles 18 and 20. ( )

Decision:

The Secretariat of National Defence must elaborate a public version of the documents sought by Petitioner which contain a description of the country’s overall defence strategy – public information – but which leaves out strategic and logistical data that, if disclosed, would naturally affect military operations and endanger national security.


Keywords:
National security (including defense, intelligence, state security, state secrets, secrecy laws)
Oversight bodies (including information commission, judicial review, ombuds office)
Public interest (including public interest override, information of public interest)
Public safety
RTI law
Security sector (including intelligence bodies, military, police)

Case details:

Facts

In June 2005, Petitioner requested from the Secretariat of National Defence (Sectretaria de la Defensa Nacional, or SND) the “content of the military defence plans publicly known as DN1, DN2, DN3 and Sentinel Plan” which embodied Mexico’s defence strategy [p. 1]. The SND refused disclosure on the basis of Article 13(I) (national security exception) of the Federal Transparency and Access to Public Governmental Information Law (RTI Law) and Articles 18 and 20 of the General Guidelines for the Classification and Declassification of Information of Federal Public Agencies (General Guidelines), all of which protect information which disclosure could compromise national or public security and national defence. SND argued that the revelation of these military defence plans would naturally hinder ongoing military efforts and anti-drug dealing operations and only gave access to limited information about two plans already available on its website [p.2].

Petitioner appealed SND’s resolution before IFAI.

 

Decision

IFAI distinguished between (i) strategic and logistic information related to internal and external defence and (ii) more general information, an overview of the country’s approach to defence both internally and internationally. While the first is protected by secrecy, the second is not.

The information on general defence strategy was not protected by the military secrecy of Articles 13(I) of the RTI Law and 18 and 20 of the General Guidelines [p.33]. IFAI conducted a review of the practice of a number of jurisdictions and concluded that indeed, many countries communicate what is the government’s general approach to defence through reports that are made publicly available, without this representing a threat to national security [pp.10-27].

The general information which is typically part of these overviews includes: basic guidelines of the defence legal framework, identification and generic description of foreign and domestic threats, an evaluation of the national, regional, and international geopolitical context and a brief description of the national defence policy. They exclude mention of intelligentsia, logistics, weapons, tactics and technology employed and they do not disclose information on locations of ongoing operations, all of which falls under the category of “logistical and strategic information” [pp. 21-27] IFAI concluded that logistical and strategic information is naturally protected by secrecy since its disclosure could affect the military’s ability to perform [pp.34-35].

IFAI noted that the general information sought by petitioner was not adequately reflected in the documents already published at SND’s website. These documents outlined the role of the military in case of natural disasters and provided a stenographic version of a press conference where the Sentinel Plan was addressed, but did not embody in any way the Government’s vision for a comprehensive defence strategy – both domestic and international [pp. 28-29].

Therefore, IFAI ordered the SND to elaborate a public version of the documents that adequately reflected the country’s overall defence strategy, along the lines of those published by other countries, but which left out strategic and logistical information which disclosure would be protected by secrecy [pp.34-35].

Resources:

IFAI administrative resolution