Institutions must substantiate claims that disclosure will harm national security

Complaint: National Defence refused under section 19 and subsection 15(1) to release photographs of the hairstyles of each Afghan detainee the Canadian Forces had processed in 2007.

Investigation: In the institution’s view, releasing the photographs, even with facial and bodily features cropped out, would identify the detainees and endanger Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan, as well as Canada’s security and that of its allies.

Outcome: The Information Commissioner applied to the Federal Court to have matter reviewed after National Defence refused to release the photographs in response to her recommendation.

Information Commissioner’s position

  • Section 19 applies only when disclosure of information could lead to an individual being identified. In this case, National Defence could not demonstrate that this would happen nor that disclosing the detainees’ hairlines would result their being identifiable should further requests be made for images of various parts of their faces.
  • Institutions need to properly substantiate claims that disclosure will harm national security. National Defence was unable to do this in this case, since the detainees could not be identified.
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