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State secrets privilege

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A nation’s state secrets privilege–otherwise known as it’s security of information (SOI) policy–is the authority by which government officials withhold from the public information that has been classified as sensitive and necessary to that nation’s national security.

For example, as cited in the March 1996 ruling Frost v. Perry,[1]

The court holds that the U.S. government properly invoked the military and state secrets privilege, preventing a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) citizen suit regarding a classified site operated by the U.S. Air Force from proceeding. The court first notes that the military and state secrets privilege is absolute, notwithstanding any allegations of criminal conduct. ... The court next holds that the Secretary of the Air Force invoked the privilege over the site's RCRA compliance state. The Secretary had invoked the privilege over 10 categories of information, including security sensitive environmental data. Moreover, the Secretary's classified declaration described in further detail the scope of the privilege as invoked. The court also holds that the federal defendants could rely on a classified declaration to support their claim of military and state secrets privilege in the context of their motion for summary judgment, despite the claim that the secret declaration was not admissible as evidence. The need for the declaration to be classified only underscored the national security issues present in the action. Forcing defendants to divulge the contents of the declaration would only result in further harm to national security.

The primary concern regarding this type of policy, however, is that a proper balance needs to be struck between a nation’s need for secrecy, i.e. national security, and the public’s right to know.


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References

  1. Frost v. Perry, CV-S-94-714-PMP (RLH) (919 F. Supp. 1459) (D. Nev. March 6, 1996).

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