On 24 January, Brazil’s federal government adopted a new decree which expands the authority to classify public information to a wide range of public officials. This decree, which was drafted with no civil society participation, is a concerning sign that the new administration is backsliding on its commitments to transparency and public participation.
In a joint statement ARTICLE 19 and other civil society organisations urge the government to revoke the decree which undermines core principles of Brazil’s Access to Information Law, and those of the Federal Constitution – that secrecy must be exceptional and transparency the rule.
Classifying top secret data
The Brazilian Access to Information Law defines three types of classified information: reserved (restricted for five years), secret (15 years) and top secret (25 years). Prior to the decree only the president, vice-president, ministers, commanders of military forces and high level officials could impose top secret classification on public information.
The new decree allows more than 1200 commissioned officials – including those in temporary posts who could lack the necessary training to respond to information requests – to classify information as secret and top secret. The decree’s expansion in powers contradicts Article 27 of Brazil’s Access to Information law which determines that public officials can only classify documents as restricted for five years and no longer.
The move to expand officials’ secrecy powers is especially concerning given Brazil’s limited progress in implementing its access to information and government transparency commitments.
“This decree, which will impact the rights of all society to access information, has been carried out without any dialogue with civil society or other public bodies, including the legislative that approved the Access to Information Law. The logic is simple: if more people can impose secrecy, there will be less transparency”, says Joara Marchezini, Access to Information Programme Coordinator of ARTICLE 19 Brazil. “With society’s right to information at risk, the decree in turn diminishes individuals’ capacity to monitor and challenge corruption of powerholders – one of the top concerns for most citizens”, she added.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Brazilian government to revoke the decree. We also urge other bodies including the Federal Public Prosecution, the legislative and the justice system to take measures to ensure transparency.
ARTICLE 19 will continue to monitor and evaluate the impacts of the decree on the right to access information in Brazil.