Global Freedom of Expression

Zolotonosov v. Interdepartmental Commission for the Protection of State Secrets under the President of the Russian Federation

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Public Documents
  • Date of Decision
    June 1, 2011
  • Outcome
    Decision Outcome (Disposition/Ruling), Access to Information Granted
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Russian Federation, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Administrative Law
  • Themes
    Access to Public Information, National Security

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Kalininsky District Court of St. Petersburg, Russia held that regulations that set out procedures for declassifying documents and for extending terms of classification affect the rights of the general public and must therefore be publicly available.

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Many documents of the USSR as well as of modern Russia are classified as state secrets. Until recently the declassification procedure itself was also classified as “For Administrative Use Only”.

Historian Mikhail Zolotonosov learned about the existence of the legal document which regulates the declassification procedure – the Order on Archive Documents’ Declassification Procedure and Prolongation of Classification Terms (referred to as the Order) from a worker at one of the state archives. Zolotonosov asked the appropriate government body, the Interdepartmental Commission for the Protection of State Secret, for the Order. The Commission refused disclosure, asserting that the Order itself was also classified, and thus could not be disclosed. The historian appealed the refusal to Court.

Decision Overview

The Court noted that the Order affects the rights of the general public and ruled that it should be declassified and made available to the public.

In particular, the Order regulates how to handle information requests. According to Article 5 of the Federal Law on Providing Access to Information on the Activities of Government Bodies and Bodies of Local Self-Government, access to information may only be limited if it falls under an exemption stipulated by law. The Order does not fall under any exemption under the Federal Law. Additionally, the Federal Law on Information, Information Technology and Protection of Information only permits access to information to be limited by law. Thus, since no law limited access to the Order in question, the Court ordered its disclosure.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

As a result of the decision, researchers now know how archives handle secret documents, and how to request declassification of such documents. The Order has been used widely to declassify a massive number of archived documents.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

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