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Archives policy for SIS

6 November 2003 Media Statement

Archives policy for SIS

The Prime Minister and Minister in Charge of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, Helen Clark, said today that the NZSIS has developed an archives policy for its records.

Helen Clark released an unclassified summary of the new policy.

“Successive governments have encouraged greater openness by the NZSIS, to the extent compatible with security and privacy”, Helen Clark said.

“In that context, and as the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Service approaches in 2006, I agreed with the Director of Security that it was time to develop a policy framework for making decisions on the retention, destruction, and/or declassification of Service archives. That policy has now been completed and will be put into effect.”

Helen Clark acknowledged the constructive role which other relevant officials had played in developing the policy. The Chief Archivist, the Chief Ombudsman and the Privacy Commissioner, and appropriate members of their respective offices, and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, had all been consulted and had made helpful comments. Their advice had been taken into account in finalising the document.

“Some archives will be withheld indefinitely, for security or privacy reasons, or to preserve relationships with foreign liaison partners,” Helen Clark said.

“Priority has to be given to pursuing the Service’s current responsibilities, especially in counter-terrorism. That makes it difficult for suitably experienced officers to find time in the near term to examine material in order to declassify it for release.

“But the intention is, over time, to declassify material for release where possible. The need for staff resources for this purpose will need to be considered in the budget process in future years,” Helen Clark said.


New Zealand Security Intelligence Service
Archives Policy: Summary

General Principles

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) is subject to New Zealand's archives legislation and will maintain and preserve as long as required to proper standards all records of security and historic value in its custody. These are mainly in paper or electronic form but also include photographic, audio and video material. Many records will eventually become available for public access, but there will be sufficiently compelling reasons to withhold some from public access indefinitely, subject to periodic review. Where possible, records appraised as having long-term value will be transferred to Archives New Zealand (ANZ). The NZSIS will deal disinterestedly with information, regardless of whether it reflects unfavourably on the Service or shows the Service in a good light. The archives policy does not provide guidance on responding to requests made under the Official Information Act 1982 and the Privacy Act 1993. Each request made under the statutory access regimes will be assessed on an individual basis and the Service will act in the spirit of these statutes taking into account security and privacy considerations.

Criteria for Preservation

Records in the following categories will be preserved:

• History of the Service including structure, objectives and important papers relating to administration;
• Major intelligence cases;
• Significant individuals;
• Important issues of the day;
• Advice to ministers;
• Relations with Parliamentary, judicial and quasi-judicial authorities;
• Relations with other agencies;
• Period pieces (reports which capture the essence of the period concerned);
• Representative 1% cross-section of personal and subject files;
• All indices, hard copy and electronic;
• Vetting records of historically significant people;
• Precedent-setting vettings;
• Vettings reviewed at request of candidates;
• Service staff; and
• Any other records approved for preservation by the Chief Archivist.
Criteria for Disposal (ie, Preservation or Destruction)

Disposal must comply with legislative requirements. There will be no destruction of records without a current authority approved by the Chief Archivist.

Handling Procedures: Disposal

Significant files will be retained intact.
Any original papers meeting preservation criteria will be retained from files scheduled for destruction.
All vetting files outside preservation criteria will be destroyed in toto.

Withholding Periods

Security concerns will always remain paramount.
Privacy issues will also be taken into account.
These considerations may preclude release at any time.
Where there is a high level of public interest the withholding period may be reduced.
Access decisions, especially for older records, will be subject to periodic review.

Withheld Shorter-term

Subject files: release 50 years after creation.
Personal files: release50 years after the death of the subject or 120 years after the birth of the subject, whichever is later.

To include:

• Some files on target organisations and personalities and Service administration;
• Some information relating to technical intercept operations; and
• Material from overseas liaison services where the originator's permission to release it has been obtained.

Withheld Longer-term

Information on NZSIS staff members in general: release 100 years after death, unless the member or next-of-kin gives approval for prior disclosure. Note: generally limited to name, dates of service and outline of responsibilities; privacy-sensitive material not releasable.
Some files on target personalities: release 100 years after death.
Information on technical operations: some may be released 100 years after creation.

Withheld Indefinitely

Information disclosing the existence of an interception warrant.
Material that could identify sensitive sources of information or agents.
Information the release of which would constitute a threat to security, be a breach of confidence, or could endanger a person.
Liaison service material, until the originator gives permission for its release.
Some material relating to sensitive operational techniques or targeting.


Classified information will remain in the custody of the Service.
Declassified material that has been appraised as having long-term value will generally be transferred to ANZ.
Supervised access to selected archives at NZSIS Headquarters may be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

Guidelines for Release

Security Significance

Declassification is essential before public release.

Information will not be released which may reveal:

• the existence of an interception warrant;
• sources of information or the identity of agents;
• other assistance available to the Service;
• operational techniques still used by the Service;
• current or planned Service operations; or
• liaison service information where the originator has not given permission to release it.

Confidentiality obligations to liaison services and other organisations and individuals must be observed.


Private citizens are entitled to expect greater privacy than public figures, and sensitive information will not generally be released unless the subject consents, the information is already in the public arena, or an appropriate period has passed. The Service will be guided by relevant legislation and practice. Time will diminish privacy concerns.

Handling Procedures: Release

Security is paramount.

All material to be released must be:

• expurgated of any references that might compromise security;
• formally declassified; and
• annotated to indicate where deletions have been made and why.

Original records must:

• be kept intact;
• record any release of the document; and
• identify any deletions or excisions made on the version released.

Material being declassified should be made available to all except that some personal information may be releasable only to the person, or the close family of the person, who is in record.

The Service will endeavour to process material as requested by the public, and, as resources permit, other records judged to be of the most interest to the public.

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