Justice ministry sounding out stakeholders on classified information rules change

Files with documents.
Files with documents. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Ministry of Justice wishes to amend legislation on the act governing classified information and is seeking feedback from stakeholders.

The ministry says it wants to receive proposals from the other government ministries within the week, on possible amendments to the relevant legislation, the Public Information Act.

"In particular, the external communication and exchange of information, disciplinary proceedings and the protection of this information, ensuring the equality of parties to court proceedings, and information within the institution in so-termed justified cases, have increased," the Ministry of Justice noted.

Perhaps the most important aspect relates the adequacy of the grounds for access restrictions to classified information, and the terms of those restrictions. 

Although the Ministry of Justice notes that, generally speaking, the restrictions set forth in the law have stood the test of time fairly well during their 20 years in practice, consideration should be given to supplementing certain grounds, or introducing exceptions.

One issue is the time validity of access restrictions, with the question being should this apply to the general law and the current practice, where the restriction can be set for up to 10 years, should remain valid, or should the restriction be regulated via special legislation to that end, in justified cases. 

It should also specify whether the limitation is set as a result of circumstance or based on facts

This may also provide an opportunity to change the law so that, with sufficient justification, documents stamped with "Asutusesiseseks Kasutamiseks" ("for internal use", or AK) documents can remain classified for a period of 30 years (compared with five years at present).

The Ministry of Justice also notes that the obligation to limit access and the provision that prohibits restrictions on certain information have created ambiguity, while the provisions governing the extension of access restrictions should also be adjusted, the ministry says.

It should also be made clear who should issue the information - either the institution that prepared it, or also the party that has been the recipient of that information, for example via their involvement.

The Ministry of Justice also requests consideration be given to the eventuality that access restriction will be applied partly and automatically when for example, a document is under preparation using modern tech, which would allow certain sections or parts to be designated as classified, rather than the whole.

The Ministry of Justice says that after mapping the needs for change and receiving proposals, additional consultations will take place, after which other stakeholders, and not just the ministries and the government office, will be involved.

The Ministry of Justice says it wants to receive the proposals from the other ministries on amendments to the Public Information Act by next Friday, October 27.

Back in May, the justice and the interior ministries had started examining potential legislative amendments which would extend the shelf-life of AK-designated documents.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

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