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Monday, May 17, 2010

Intelligence agencies remain out of FOI focus

The Greens Senator Ludlam in speaking in the Senate last Thursday to his unsuccessful motion for removal of the blanket  exemption of intelligence agencies from the Federal Freedom of Information Act, asked the Minister several times but failed to get a response:
What is it about Australian security agencies that should render them entirely immune to freedom of information that does not apply, for example, to the CIA, to United States intelligence agencies and to intelligence agencies like MI5 or MI6 in Britain which are subject to freedom of information laws?"
He could have added New Zealand there as well. Good questions that deserve a considered answer. As Senator Ludlam said there are plenty of exemptions that would always cover those aspects of intelligence agency operations that legitimately deserve protection, but the blanket exemptions remove scrutiny even of how many paper clips they buy-should you be interested. 

All Senator Ludlam managed was an acknowledgment from the Minister Senator Ludwig that exclusions from the act should be looked at in the proposed comprehensive review of the act two years after these changes commence.

Thanks to Open Australia for the link.

The 2010-2011 Budget for PM&C included money for an independent review of Australia's intelligence agencies. Will the terms of reference extend to issues of transparency and accountability? Tim Lester's report in the Sydney Morning Herald doesn't raise hopes.

1 comment:

  1. Andrew8:22 am

    Peter, I think Senator Ludlam has been misinformed about the UK FOI Act applying to MI5 and MI6. Not only are they outside the scope of the Act, but there is a specifc exemption (s. 23) for information "if it was directly or indirectly supplied to the public authority by, or relates to, any of the bodies specified" in subsection 3 of section 23 - which is a large raft of security agencies. The Commissioner's guidance is worth reading too.

    The agencies are covered the Environmental Information Regulations though, as MI5 helpfully confirms here.

    The UK FOI Act has many useful features, but enabling access to information regarding national security is not one of them.