Records designated as classified at the time of their creation form a very significant part of public records produced by state and public administration bodies in a broad sense. At the same time, they represent a significant part of historical source production a part of which should be permanently preserved in the relevant public archives. Their information content and informative value for future historical science is in many cases highly qualitatively superior. However, the phenomenon of classified records, including at least minimum possible access to them is also of fundamental relevance to contemporary society and the maintaining of a functioning quality democracy. Very often, however, what is missing is a deeper debate over records classification as such. For example, how do intelligence services manage their records? Are they being arbitrarily destroyed? Do they remain classified unnecessarily and for too long? The legal systems of most countries, including those with advanced democratic systems, now exert minimum real pressure on the declassification of once classified material. The following comparative study addresses the phenomenon of records classification and their declassification in some developed democracies with advanced archival systems; it also focuses on some of the features of the system’s post-1945 historical development, particularly in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, partly also in France, Germany, Sweden, and adds a look at the situation in the Czech Republic representing one of the post-communist countries in Central Europe. The study uses the specific examples of the USA and the United Kingdom to demonstrate in what respects archives and historians can act as an important factor in the process of management and declassification of classified records, and how they can also be an important element of democracy in this sense.
Archival Science – Springer Journals
Published: Oct 18, 2021
Keywords: Access to records; Bundesnachrichtendienst; Classified information; Classified records; Closure periods; Declassification; Ministry for state security; Stasi records; Overclassification; Records classification; Records management; Secrecy; Secret de la Défense nationale; Sensitive information; Waldegrave initiative