Protecting confidential information

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Protecting confidential information

In a representative democracy, legislators representing the people should be allowed to access information produced by the government. Confidential documents and records associated with national security should, however, be protected. Control on state information requires a balancing act. The ruling Saenuri Party and opposition Democratic Party agreed to strengthen the security of the National Assembly Intelligence Committee. Representatives of a special committee designed to reform the National Intelligence Service following the allegations of its involvement in the last presidential election agreed to heighten security on the intelligence committee.

Under the new framework, committee members will be scaled down to less than 10 from the current 12. Anti-tapping devices will be installed in the conference room of the committee, and access to the nearby area will be controlled in order to ensure complete privacy in discussions on intelligence matters. The committee chairman will be the only person authorized to talk to the press, and legislators or aides who leak any information from the meetings will face tougher punishments.

The National Assembly has the duty and authority to gain access to intelligence and information from state organizations to oversee administrative affairs and governance on behalf of the people. Lawmakers, however, must not make liberty of the information upon their own judgment. There have been several major leaks of secret information from the state spy agency that had been provided on strict confidentiality agreements.

If confidential intelligence information serves a political purpose - in our case, amid confrontation with North Korea - our national security could be in jeopardy. Advanced countries have strict protections on confidential state records and intelligence. In the United States, legislators can access confidential information only when it is necessary to protect national interests, and they must follow legal procedures. The German legislature also bans leaks of the information discussed in intelligence meetings.

The government must strengthen intelligence awareness because it can define national security in the information age. The National Assembly must come up with clear guidelines on intelligence control and access so that the new protective system does not hamper the public’s basic right to know. It must draw a clear line on what is confidential information and what is not. The difference should not be hard to determine if it is based on the fact that the National Intelligence Service exists primarily to serve and protect the people.
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