Hera Diani, January 05, 2006,
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The official secrets bill, which will be deliberated by the House of Representatives later this month, should respect and uphold the freedom to access information, activists warned on Tuesday.
Agus Sudibyo of the Freedom of Information Coalition said that while the bill was necessary, it had to be comprehensively drafted with the involvement of every stakeholder.
“The problem with the bill is its imprecise definition of official secrets, the scope of secrets, those who have the right to access them and so on,” he said.
Moreover, he said, the government had not involved the public in the drafting process, which he said set a bad precedent.
“Based on the principles of law reform, the group that is most affected by a legislative provision should be asked for its views and participation,” Agus said.
The government-sponsored bill has sparked criticism as many say that the effort to keep information out of public reach violates the spirit of transparency. Press freedom could also be at risk.
The latest draft of the bill proposes the establishment of an official secrets agency that would be authorized to declare certain information classified. The inter-departmental agency would also have the power to determine the people and institutions allowed to access information deemed to be secret.
Generally, the bill defines confidential information as anything that has the potential to endanger the state’s sovereignty or security if it falls into the hands of the wrong parties.
Such things include information on defense, international relations, law enforcement, the economy, the state cryptography and signals system, intelligence and vital assets.
Institutions possessing such information have the final authority to deny any request for access to information they classify as secret, with an exception where it is required for use in court.
Agus said that the bill could allow manipulation to protect the secrets of bureaucrats.
“For instance, the bill stipulates that civil servants at all levels are obliged to maintain official secrets, but it does not oblige them to provide access to information that is not categorized as an official secret,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ignatius Haryanto of the Institute of Press and Development Studies (LSPP) said the bill needed to be more tightly drafted as regards the definition of an official secret and the length of time it would remain secret.
A bill could also be declared a secret before it was passed, he said, even though it required public participation.
“We believe that the big picture is still the freedom to access information. If there are to be exceptions, that’s fine. But don’t spin it out and jeopardize freedom in the name of protecting state secrets. A lack of transparency will only breed corruption,” Ignatius said