The Scope of National Security
Module 9: National Security
“Freedom of expression” and “national security” are very often seen as principles or interests that are inevitably opposed to each other. Governments often invoke national security as a rationale for restricting freedom of expression, particularly media freedom. Yet national security remains a genuine public good — and without it, media freedom would be scarcely possible. On the other hand, governments are seldom inclined to recognise that media freedom may actually be a means to ensure better national security by exposing abuses in the security sector.
The Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the ICCPR (Siracusa Principles) define a legitimate national security interest as one that aims “to protect the existence of the nation or its territorial integrity or political independence against force or threat of force.”(1) Subsequent articles indicate that a national security limitation “cannot be invoked as a reason for imposing limitations to prevent merely local or relatively isolated threats to law and order.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression has repeatedly limited the scope of a national security limitation in similar terms. For example:
“For the purpose of protecting national security, the right to freedom of expression and information can be restricted only in the most serious cases of a direct political or military threat to the entire nation.”(2)
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the nature and scope of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and restrictions and limitations to the right to freedom of expression,’ (1995)
In a similar vein, the Johannesburg Principles define a national security interest as being:
“To protect a country’s existence or its territorial integrity against the use or threat of force, or its capacity to respond to the use or threat of force, whether from an external source, such as a military threat, or an internal source, such as incitement to violent overthrow of the government.”(3)
Article 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression, ‘The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information,’ (1996), principle 2(a).