European Endorsement for Tshwane Principles on National Security and Right to Information

New global principles on the balance between legitimate national security concerns and the public’s right to access government information have been endorsed by a committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), in an important first step towards broader governmental acceptance of the standards.

A resolution of PACE’s legal affairs committee, passed unanimously on June 24, encourages the Council of Europe’s 47 member states to align their laws with the Tshwane Principles on National Security and the Right to Information, which were launched earlier this month by a group of experts, civil society organizations, academia and national security practitioners.

The Open Society Justice Initiative facilitated the drafting of the principles, based on consultations with over 500 experts from 70 countries over a two year period. They  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.

The principles are based on international and national law, standards, good practices, and the writings of experts.

The PACE committee, adopting a report on access to information authored by Arcadio Diaz Tejera (Spain), said access to information should be granted where public interest in the information in question outweighs the authorities’ interest in keeping it secret, including when such information “would make an important contribution to an on-going public debate.”

The draft resolution, which will be presented to the full parliamentary assembly later this year, said that “the Assembly generally supports the Global Principles and calls on the competent authorities of all member states of the Council of Europe to take them into account in modernizing their legislation and practice concerning access to information.”

Sandra Coliver, who heads the Justice Initiative’s work on freedom of information, said:  “Senator Diaz Tejera and the legal affairs committee are to be commended for taking this bold step. We look forward to the measures that the Council’s member states will take to implement the resolution, and we hope that other countries with significant national security concerns, including the United States, will similarly be guided by this timely resolution.”