Access to Public Information
Access Info Europe v. Council of the European Union
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The Mexican Information Commission (Instituto General de Acceso a la Informacion Publica, or IFAI) held that the Secretariat of National Defence (SND) must release the names of public officials who purchased body armor and the quantities provided to other agencies since this is public information under Article 7 of the Federal Transparency and Access to Public Governmental Information Law (RTI Law). However it reasoned that information on the security level of such armor is classified under Article 13(I) as it compromises national/public security and national defence, and – to the extent it is not already publicly available – should be kept confidential.
This analysis was contributed by Right2Info.org.
In November 2006, the Petitioner requested information from the Secretariat of National Defence (Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional, or SND), specifically: “(i) Names of the officials that participated and signed documents for the purchase of materials and supply of body armour to the SSP/PFP [Secretariat of Public Security/Federal Police]; (ii) the amount of body armour purchased, its cost, and level of security; (iii) documents that accredit and certify the ballistic level of the armour”.
SND rejected all three requests. The first was rejected on the ground that officers must consent to the disclosure of their names. SND also denied purchasing the body armour indicated by Petitioner. Moreover, it argued that the information on the ballistic level of the armor could not be disclosed because – to the extent such information landed in the wrong hands – disclosure could endanger the life and security of the personnel wearing such armor. It justified this last piece on Article 13(I) of the Federal Transparency and Access to Public Governmental Information Law (RTI Law), which classifies as reserved or confidential information that could compromise national security, public security or national defence. Nonetheless, the SND did release information on the armor’s cost.
The Petitioner appealed before IFAI arguing that some of the information withheld by SND was public knowledge and even available online.
With regard to the applicant’s first request—the names of the officials that authorized the purchase of materials and supply of body armour—IFAI relied on Article 7 (XIII)(a) of the RTI Law which mandates the release of information on contracts entered by administrative units, whether for public works or the acquisition of goods or services. IFAI understood this provision to encompass the names of those public officers that were involved in the execution of such contracts, allowing for greater transparency and accountability. Thus, it ordered the SND to disclose their names without seeking their prior consent.
As for the second of Petitioner’s requests – the cost/amount of body armor purchased by SND – IFAI noted that if the SND produced its own equipment (rather than purchasing it) as indicated by the SND in its response, it must have logically purchased at the very least the necessary materials to manufacture the armor. IFAI ordered the SND to release data on the amount of materials purchased to those ends (information on costs had already been disclosed).
Finally, IFAI addressed the SND’s Article 13(I) national/public security exception defence that would protect information on the ballistic level of body armor from disclosure. IFAI noted the body armor was meant to protect the life and physical integrity of police and military personnel. To that extent, the information on the ballistic level of the armor was intricately related to the provision of national security, public security and national defence. Its disclosure could negatively affect military or police activities and operations conducted to secure these public ends. As such, IFAI confirmed this information was properly classified under Article 13(I) of the RTI Law, except for that information which was already available online.
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