EU Watch

Bulgarian State Security Agency Ignores Court Order in Freedom of Information Case

The agency responsible for the nation's security​​ seems unafraid to violate​ national law.

by Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

Liberties member the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) has condemned Bulgaria's State Agency for National Security (SANS) after it refused, for the second time, to provide public information. By doing so, SANS violates a decision of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC).

The case raises a few worrying questions. Is SANS above the law? How can the agency that is charged with protecting the Bulgarian state fulfill this duty in a proper way if it violates national laws? Moreover, SANS demonstrates complete disregard for the established legal system.

The case

In 2014, on the basis of the Access to Public Information Act, the BHC requested the following information from SANS: the number of requests made to a court from the territorial directorates and the independent territorial units of SANS in 2013 for the use of special intelligence means (SIM); the number of applications for the use of SIM that were approved by the court in 2013; and the number of persons in respect to whom the court authorized SANS to use SIM in 2013.

The agency refused to provide this information, through a decision directly from its chairman. The reason give was that this information was classified. Moreover, the agency claimed that the dissemination of such information is prohibited under the SIM Act.

SANS claims that the information is classified under item 25 of the List of categories of information which are classified as official secret by SANS, namely: "The information used in the process of coordination and interaction with the judiciary in relation to the performed operational and search activities."

According to Bulgarian legislation, the requested statistical information is not classified as secret because it does not contain data about individual cases on which SANS is working. At the same time, it is important for the Bulgarian society to be informed about the overall activity of the agency. Two successive judgments of the Administrative Court of the City of Sofia (ACCS) and the SAC issued at the end of 2015 obliged the agency to provide this information. However, SANS refused to execute either judgment.

Against the people's interests

As a result this refusal, the BHC filed a second complaint, and again won the case. It is now once again up to the agency whether it will choose to neglect the Bulgarian courts and demonstrate once more that it does not obey the laws of the national it exists to defend.

"It is worrying that an agency which is subordinated to the Council of Ministers and is created to protect the national security systematically does not obey not only to the law but also to the judgments of the court. By acting in such a way, the agency stands against the interests of the Bulgarian citizens who are deprived of legal certainty. A state, in which there is an institution which considers itself above the law, should seriously rethink and change its policy in order to restore the rule of law," Adela Kachaunova, a lawyer who is responsible for the BHC's Legal Program, said.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Bulgarian law does not contain sufficient safeguards against the risk of abuse that is inherent in any secret surveillance system. Bulgaria established the National Office for the Control of Special Intelligence Means in 2013 in order to execute the judgment of the ECtHR. However, just a few days ago, the media reported that officials from SANS refused to provide access to the documents that are related to the three files with requests for information about the use of SIM to members of the Office.