Spanish state secrets are no longer secret forever

by Lorraine Williamson
state secrets

MADRID – In Spain at the moment, state secrets can remain secret forever. However, with the new law on classified information, the government wants to clean up this remnant of Franco’s dictatorship. Furthermore, the law is also in line with EU and NATO standards. 

In this Monday’s bill, the Spanish Minister of General Affairs and not the Defense Minister will now determine which documents are classified as state secrets and for how long those documents remain secret. According to government sources quoted by the newspaper El Diario, “Confidentiality can be imposed for a period of 4 to a maximum of 50 years. In certain cases, that period may be extended.” 

Four categories of information 

From now on, the duration of the secrecy will depend on the type of information. By European standards, there are four categories: top secret, classified, confidential and restricted information. Only extremely sensitive information can remain secret for more than 50 years. The 50-year term can still be changed during the debate in parliament, government sources say. 

Who decides? 

From now on, the Spanish Minister of General Affairs (now Félix Bolaños) will be in charge of the secrecy decision. According to the government, this has to do with the current zeitgeist. Secret information does not only concern military matters, it can also involve economic, industrial or other sensitive information. That is why we have opted for a ministry with a broader field of activity that can work “interdepartmentally”. 

Authority Confidential Information 

“An Authority for Confidential Information has been set up. This government body guarantees compliance with the law. It also coordinates and supports all ministries. Finally, the Authority is in contact with international authorities in that field.” This does not alter the fact that ultimately it is the Council of Ministers that imposes and also cancels the obligation of confidentiality. 

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It took a long time 

The Basque political party (PNV) already introduced such a bill in 2016. The purpose of this was that the information about political scandals and the coup d’état of February 23, 1981, would be disclosed by Tejero (23F). The bill has only now been adopted after 80 adjournments and a cabinet change. 

The PNV argues for a shorter confidentiality period 

The PNV wanted a much shorter term of a maximum of 25 years. The ruling party had also adopted this intention at the time. However, with good reason, the government could extend this term once by ten years. It was just a margin for a few issues that would suddenly become public after 25 years of secrecy. However, the bill of the past was never enacted into law due to the fall of the government in 2019. 

Still a confidentiality period without an end date possible? 

Now the government has extended the secrecy period to 50 years. Moreover, that period can be extended if the government deems it necessary. The editors of the newspaper el Diario are still confused. For example, it remains to be seen from the fine print what happens to issues that were already classified as a secret before the law came into force. So it is not yet clear when the documents on 23F, the spying on separatist leaders and other political scandals will finally see the light of day. 

Also read: Franco had around 40,000 people shot in peace time

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