CHINA> National
Redefine state secrets
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-23 07:59

We know little about the draft revision of the State Secrets Law, except that the National People's Congress Standing Committee is reviewing it. And, that the revision is intended to reinforce protection of state secrets.

The 1989 State Secrets Law is obsolete and deserves to be transformed. It is a one-sided legislation under which citizens have only obligations. In theory, government institutions, should they choose to do so, have the authority to label everything as State secrets. And, citizens, once prosecuted on the ground of violating State secrets, can expect no legal relief. That not only severely compromises the citizens' right to know but constitutes a destructive threat to civil rights in the broader sense.

The promise of the one-year-old Ordinance on Government Information Disclosure (OGID) appeared illusory precisely because of that 20-year-old law. In the legislative sense, the law commands higher authority than a government decree. The pretty flowers of the OGID would never bear the promised fruit without this law being updated.

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Now that they have finally set about rewriting the law, it should not be left as defective as it has been in terms of guaranteeing civil rights. Although we do not see independent clauses on civil rights being added to the law, there should be due regard to balancing the need to protect State interest and those safeguarding citizens' right to know.

First of all, there must be clear criteria which lays down who is authorized to define State secrets. The ambiguity in the current law actually authorizes everyone in public offices to do that. It would be dangerous if officials can label everything they want to hide from public knowledge as State secrets.

Government institutions should no longer be allowed unlimited freedom in defining State secrets. The unnecessarily wide scope of State secrets must be streamlined.

The law must spell out explicit procedure for the definition of State secrets. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that "State secrets" will not become a cover for corruption, incompetence or fraud.

If citizens continue to shoulder unlimited, and undefined obligations, they should not be left defenseless when accused. There should be legal relief for citizens victimized by abuse of the definition "State secrets."