Many documents of the USSR as well as of modern Russia are classified as state secrets. Until recently declassification procedure itself was also classified as “For Administrative Use Only”. Historian Mikhail Zolotonosov learned about the existence of the legal document which regulates declassification procedure – Order on Archive Documents’ Declassification Procedure and Prolongation of Classification Terms (referred to as Order) from a worker of one of the state archives. Zolotonosov requested the Order from the appropriate government body, the Interdepartmental Commission for the Protection of State Secrets. The Commission denied disclosure, asserting that the Order itself was also classified, and thus could not be disclosed. The historian appealed the denial to court.
The Court noted that the Order affects the rights of the general public and ruled that it should be declassified and made available to the public. In particular, the Order regulates how to handle information requests. According to Article 5 of the Federal Law on Providing Access to Information on the Activities of Government Bodies and Bodies of Local Self-Government access to information may only be limited if it falls under an exemption stipulated by law. The Order does not fall under any exemption and thus the Court ordered disclosure. As a result, researchers now know how archives handle secret documents, and how to request declassification of such documents. The Order has been used widely in declassifying a massive number of archive documents.
Judgment of the Court.