Government secrecy review
Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-01-20
The Australian Law Reform Commission is in the middle of an inquiry (I missed it earlier) into the need for secrecy of Australian Government documents in an open society. Comments on the current issues paper need to be in by mid February.
Seriously, this is tricky stuff, and I’d really appreciate it if there is anybody out there who can go through any of the issues and make comments here to help me get my thoughts together, including whether I indeed know enough to comment at all! I’m particular crying for help from any legally-savvy libertarian and/or open-government-ite readers…. heh heh…. you know who you are.
From my very quick eyeballing, one of the dangerous outcomes could be a significant amount of government information being made available to private-sector interests, while more information relevant to the public and important to transparency will get locked away as "Commercial-In-Confidence".
One important area under review is when to require proof, and how much, that Australia would be harmed by release of the information, before deciding whether or not it should be "secret"… tricky!!!
Let’s hope they’ll also make proper document metadata labelling of confidentiality inside documents so that relative secrecy levels can be compared across agencies, and allow the public to Google throughout government datastores for anything NOT marked secret, and thus make most FOI costs disappear overnight!
If there is a good outcome, it might give us ammunition against dodgy state governments, especially the one in Joh Brumby‘s Victoria.
Details over the fold…
- ALRC Media Release (2008-12-09) ALRC: do we need secrecy laws in an open society?
- Closing date for submissions: 2009-02-19
- Main inquiry page
- Email contact:
- Register for notices about the inquiry
- Make an online comment
- Other inquiry timetable info
- Terms of Reference include:
- the desirability of having comprehensive, consistent and workable laws and practices in relation to the protection of Commonwealth information;
- the increased need to share such information within and between governments and with the private sector;
- the importance of balancing the need to protect Commonwealth information and the public interest in an open and accountable system of government; and…
- Background (Issues paper 34) "Review of Secrecy Laws" as Multipage HTML (pity there isn’t a html zip bundle!), a 1.4Mb PDF, and the horrible 16Mb RTF (why don’t they use the ISO standards track Open Document Format… MUCH smaller than the RTF and DOC!)
- Materials from an earlier and aborted inquiry on FOI/Privacy which might be of use.
While I remember, they’ve just announced an upcoming inquiry into a Royal Commission-like structures, citing the Haneef Inquiry as demonstrating something that can be quickly set up, but have at least some of the powers so far peculiar to Royal Commissions.