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PACE adopted resolution on National Security and Access to Information

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted today, 2 October 2013, the Resolution on National Security and Access to Information.

The resolution underlines that “legitimate, well-defined national security interests” are valid grounds for withholding information held by public authorities, but invoking “national security” as a ground for secrecy should be subject to reasonable limits. Crimes such as murder, enforced disappearances, torture or abduction committed by state agents do not deserve to be protected as “state secrets”.

The resolution includes several references to the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (the Tshwane Principles) giving special importance to:

Principle 1 (general rule of access to information)

Principle 3 (requirements for restricting access to information)

Principle 4 (burden on public authority to establish legitimacy of restriction)

Principle 10 (categories of information with a high presumption or overriding interest in favour of disclosure)

Principle 12 (public access to classification rules)

Principle 16 (time limits for period of classification)

Principle 17 (declassification procedures)

Principle 19 (duty to confirm or deny)

Principle 20 (duty to state reasons for denial in writing)

Principle 25 (time limits for responding to information requests)

Principle 26 (right to review of decision withholding information)

Principle 31 (independent oversight bodies)

Principle 40 (protection of public disclosures)

Principle 41 (protection against retaliation for making disclosures of information showing wrongdoing).

Finally, the Assembly urges Council of Europe governments to align their laws with the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (the Tshwane Principles) , and to sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents.