Classification system

Guidance for specific information types

Security classifications for Cabinet documents

This section covers Cabinet documents, such as Cabinet and Cabinet committee agendas, papers, minutes, and memos. Documents that Cabinet uses to formulate policy and make decisions require special protective measures.

Cabinet documents, unlike other government information, belong to the governments that create them. They are integral to the process by which governments make decisions and they constitute the record of those decisions.

Any unauthorised disclosure damages the openness and frankness of discussions in the Cabinet room and impedes the process of good government.

The minimum protective marking for Cabinet papers is IN-CONFIDENCE. Higher security classifications should be used if appropriate.

To ensure a paper receives the right level of protection, the originating agency (or Minister’s office) is responsible applying a security classification to a Cabinet submission.

If your agency submits a Cabinet paper without a security classification or with an inappropriate classification, the Cabinet Office will assign the correct security classification in consultation with the relevant Minister’s office.

When your agency needs to identify special care requirements for Cabinet papers, you should apply an endorsement marking.

Endorsement markings used for Cabinet papers include:

  • BUDGET: proposed or actual measures for the Budget before their announcement
  • COMMERCIAL: sensitive commercial processes, negotiations, or affairs
  • STAFF: reference to names or identifiable individuals
  • SPECIAL HANDING REQUIRED: specific handling requirements apply.

Very little information needs the endorsement marking SPECIAL HANDLING REQUIRED and it should be used sparingly.

This endorsement marking is specific to Cabinet papers. It may be used with the SENSITIVE security classification if the material in the paper is assessed as highly sensitive in nature and needing additional protection.

More advice on classifying and handling Cabinet material

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) is the key source for advice on Cabinet processes and material.

Security classifications for information from foreign governments

This section covers applying security classifications to information from foreign governments.

New Zealand government organisations must adhere to any provisions concerning the security of people, information and assets contained in multilateral or bilateral agreements and arrangements to which New Zealand or the organisation is a party.

Reciprocal protection under bilateral security agreements

Bilateral security agreements can include reciprocal protection for the exchange of protectively-marked information. In such cases, apply the equivalent New Zealand security classification marking. Make sure the protection is equivalent to, but not less than, that required by the government providing the information.

Releasing information from foreign governments

Under the OIA, the agency who receives the request for information release has the obligation to decide on whether the information can be released or withheld.   In addition, the Inquiries Act may request information from an agency on behalf of an government inquiry.

Under bilateral agreements, you must get permission before you release information owned or controlled by foreign governments. You should obtain their written approval.

However, the absence of permission from another party to release information does not absolve an agency from its obligations under the respective Act. 

The responding agency must consider the request on its own merits using harm criteria defined within the Act. The justification for withholding any particular information must outweigh the justification of the public interest of its disclosure. 

See also:

Marking information when there are no bilateral security agreements

Consult the NZSIS for help to apply the correct security marking to protectively-marked information you receive from another country — a country New Zealand doesn’t have a bilateral security agreement with.


Page last modified: 20/06/2022