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Russia: Security Clearance Restrictions on Employees with Relatives Abroad

(Mar. 6, 2015) On January 15, 2015, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation upheld the constitutionality of the Federal Law on State Secrecy and confirmed the legality of the current government practice of cancelling the security clearances of and restricting access to information that contains state secrets by those government employees whose family members or other close relatives permanently reside abroad. (Ruling of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation on the Refusal to Accept the Claim of Citizen Pushkin to Review the Constitutionality of Article 22 of the State Secrecy Law of the Russian Federation, Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation official website (Jan. 15, 2015) (in Russian).)

The Court decision was made in regard to a petition submitted by a Federal Security Service officer whose security clearance was terminated because the officer’s son attended a college in a foreign country. The petitioner objected to paragraph 4 of article 22 of the Sate Secrecy Law, which states that permanent residence of a person or his/her close relatives abroad or preparation for relocation of these people for permanent residency abroad is a reason for termination of one’s clearance and access to state secrets. (Law of the Russian Federation of July 21, 1993, on State Secrecy, ROSSIISKAIA GAZETA, No. 182 (Sept. 21, 1993) (official publication, in Russian).) The argument was that this contradicts provisions of the Russian Constitution which establish equality of all people before law (art. 19) and require that “no law shall cancel or denigrate human rights” (art. 55). (Ruling of the Constitutional Court, supra.)

Additionally, the petitioner asked the Court to review the legality of the judicial interpretation of this provision. Presently, residency abroad is recognized by Russian courts as permanent if it continues for a period longer than six months regardless of the purpose for living outside Russia, even without a formal confirmation of a permanent resident status, except in cases when a government employee’s stay abroad is required in connection with his or her professional duties. (Id.)

In response to the officer’s argument that the family member’s study abroad does not constitute permanent residence and does not create a connection between a clearance holder and a foreigner, the Court stated that the “goal of a secrecy regime is to preserve information that contains state secrets and … to prevent access to classified information.” (Id.) The Court confirmed that possession of a security clearance is a privilege, termination of one’s clearance is justifiable under any circumstances if state secrecy can be compromised, and the federal government is responsible for undertaking measures aimed at protecting of information that contains state secrecy. (Id.) The Court ruled that the provision of the law in question was applied correctly because the officer’s son did not return to Russia within a six-month period. (Id.)

According to news reports, the delivery of this Constitutional Court ruling coincides with the vigorous implementation of a government policy aimed at restricting travel abroad by law enforcement personnel. Reportedly, in June 2014, all police officers were ordered to submit their travel passports to their supervisors, and officers of the Federal Protection Service (similar to the U.S. Secret Service) were banned from travel to the 108 countries of the world that have extradition agreements with the United States. An exemption was created for the employees of the Prosecutor General’s office, who are allowed to visit 27 foreign states; however, for each individual trip they need to receive special permission from their superiors. (Constitutional Court: Ban on Access to State Secrets Is Legal if Relatives Live Abroad, NEWSRU.COM (Feb. 11, 215) (in Russian).)

Employees of the Ministry of Defense, the Federal Security Service, the Federal Correctional Service, the Federal Narcotics Control Service, and various intelligence agencies are also subject to these restrictions. It appears that up to four million Russian government employees may be subject to travel restrictions. (Journalists Learned that Police Officers Relinquished Their Travel Passports After Prosecutors Did So, NEWSRU.COM (June 4, 2014) (in Russian).)