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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Harmful" unclassified information??

Two memoranda issued to ministers by the NSW Premier Morris Iemma, indirectly raise access to information issues.

Premier's Memorandum (M2007-13) 'Release of NSW Government Security Sensitive Information to Third Parties' alerts ministers and the public service to the dangers of inappropriate release of information relating to critical infrastructure or counter terrorism arrangements. Fair enough. It provides some guidance about the need to classify this type of information. However it goes on to say that unclassified information may also be considered security sensitive in a number of circumstances including where "through unauthorised or inappropriate disclosure or misuse it may cause harm to a government department.....".

But what constitutes "harm" to a government agency? No further guidance is offered. While danger to security is one thing, "harm" is another broader concept. In the minds of some, it's open to very broad interpretation and could cover a whole range of circumstances where disclosure might simply be inconvenient or even embarrassing.

On another tack, is access to government information an element of government service delivery? It would be nice to think that every NSW government agency sees things this way.

If so Premier's Memorandum (M2007-18) 'Customer Satisfaction State Plan Commitment - S8' should mean that it becomes a top priority for chief executives to give some thought to public satisfaction with arrangements for access to government information, including the need for compliance with best practice standards in managing Freedom of Information applications as well.

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