On August 30, 2019, at the session of the Legal Issues Committee, the Parliament of Georgia discussed the legislative proposal on amendments in the Law on National Archival Fund and National Archives and the Law on Personal Data Protection submitted by the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) (N1-7153/19; 10.04.2019).
The legislative proposal envisions amendments in several directions:
- Granting access to archival documents containing personal data and state secrets if there is well-substantiated research or scientific purpose and/or there is public interest towards the information;
- Introducing a regulation of review deadlines for admission applications to the national archival funds and the obligation to keep a record of these applications;
- Allowing the photocopying of archival documents inside reading halls;
- Disclosing the list of lost or damaged documents.
The Executive Director of IDFI, Giorgi Kldiashvili, attended the committee session, and during his speech, spoke about the importance of openness of archives for building a democratic state. According to him, IDFI’s research has identified several flaws in the archival legislation and practice that need to be addressed. Researchers working in Georgian archives face disproportionately long periods of wait time for accessing archives, the state archive has a discretionary right to deny document access to specific researchers, it can also refuse to issue a specific document. Especially problematic is the prohibition on photocopying of documents inside the reading halls using the researcher's own camera, while the price of photocopying at by the archive is too high. According to Giorgi Kldiashvili, the only objective of the legislative proposal was the facilitation of archival research, which is of paramount importance for studying the totalitarian past, especially with regards to Soviet totalitarianism, and is directly linked with critical issues such as lustration, understanding of the Soviet past and de-Sovietization.
In his speech, the head of the Legal Issues Committee Anri Okhanashvili emphasized the high public interest in this issue and thanked the civil society for raising it and participating in the discussions. Following the head of the committee, the chief specialist of the Legal Issues Committee apparatus Giorgi Giguashvili also spoke about the importance of the amendments, aimed at facilitating scientific research.
The primary argument of the Legal Issues Committee for not accepting this proposal in its current state was that in the case of substantiation based on scientific or research goals, a researcher would practically have unlimited access to state secrets and personal data, which poses risks.
The Executive Director of IDFI, Giorgi Kldiashvili and members of the committee unanimously asserted that the goal of the legislative proposal was not to introduce vagueness to the issues of personal data and state secret protection, and agreed that in the future the articles should be reworked to make the terms and principles more precise, and that the proposal should be resubmitted.
Additionally, the chief specialist of the Legal Issues Committee presented the position of the Ministry of Justice regarding allowing photocopying inside reading halls. According to Giorgi Giguashvili, the Ministry of Justice declared that “photocopying in such a form can bear certain risks in terms of safety of the documents preserved in the National Archives, since they will not have a so-called watermark or stamp; also, they can be damaged”. IDFI does not agree with the Ministry’s position and states that free photocopying is allowed in the leading archives of the world (more in this article), none of which consider this to be risky, and there is, in fact, no chance that the documents can be damaged this way, especially when there is an archive employee in the reading room who oversees the process.
IDFI has been working on the topic of access to archives for years. In the decision of April 4, 2019, the Tbilisi City Court fully granted the appeal of IDFI against the National Archives of Georgia – LEPL of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia. The court ordered the respondent party to disclose information on the number of applications received with the request of accessing archival documents and relevant decisions taken. The National Archives of Georgia was directed to disclose the information even though they did not process the statistical data requested by IDFI.
This dispute is of crucial importance, since the court ordered the administrative body to create and disclose statistical data and discussed the importance of accessing archival documents for a democratic society.
IDFI will continue working with the Parliament and all stakeholders to improve archive legislation and transparency, in order to enhance the openness of state archives.
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