Bulgaria's Security Agency Ordered to Hand Over Info to Civil Society

The national security service has been ordered to hand over statistics it claimed was classified after a court's decision that the information does not compromise state secrets.
The Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria overturned the refusal of the State Agency for National Security to provide the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee with statistics on the use of special intelligence means.

The State Agency for National Security (SANS) initially refused to give the information not because it was secret, but because "such information just doesn’t exist." The refusal was later confirmed by the Administrative Court - Sofia City, but the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria found that decision to be incorrect.

Classified information

In 2014, BHC requested information from SANS under the Access to Public Information Act. The organization wanted to know how many requests for the use of special intelligence means (SIM) were made by SANS in 2013, how many of these requests were approved by the court, and the number of people authorized to use the SIM.

By decision of its president, the State Agency for National Security rejected the request under the pretext that distributing this information was forbidden.

SANS claims that the information is classified under Item 25 from the list of categories of information subject to classification as official secrets: "Information on the coordination and interaction with representatives of the judiciary in carrying out operatively-search activity."

According to the BHC, there are no legal grounds for the classification of the requested statistical information. There is no legally protected interest that would be damaged or threatened by the disclosure. Furthermore, the alleged classification of information should be based on an order that is available to the public, but it’s not.

Hand it over

Thus the refusal of SANS is unmotivated and doesn’t specify the reasons for requiring secrecy. The BHC also cited the European Convention on Human Rights, which defends the right of public watchdog organizations to have access to information to inform public debate.

The Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria overturned the decisions of the administrative court and SANS in November 2015, because the application for access to public information doesn’t concern the operational work of SANS, but only the results of it. The requested statistics are not confidential information, the court said, and the disclosure of them would not compromise state secrets.