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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

US funding FOI research to foil terrorists

FOI advocates in the US have been alarmed to learn that buried away in the Government’s budget documents is an allocation of $US1million to St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas to undertake research on model FOI provisions that would prevent terrorists from accessing information about public infrastructure.

Their research will no doubt lead them to the unique exemption in the NSW FOI Act introduced in 2004 (Clause 4A Schedule 1) that protects information from disclosure if there is a reasonable expectation it could facilitate the commission of a terrorist act or prejudice the prevention of, preparedness against, response to or recovery from the commission of a terrorist act.

The one case that has come to light about the application of the exemption was a decision by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal that documents that would add to the currently available stock of photographs of the Sydney Harbour Bridge come within the exemption.

No one has really explained why NSW felt the need to pass special legislation to create this exemption (existing exemptions included one to cover security of a building or structure) but no other Australian jurisdiction has felt compelled to act.

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