State secrets can be secrets forever with the current law, which was enacted in 1968. The Government approves this Monday the Draft Law on Classified Information with which it intends to replace that Francoist rule and adapt Spanish legislation to EU standards , but also NATO. The main novelty of the text is that a maximum term will be established in general for the information that the State wants to restrict to remain opaque. “The periods for declassification of documentation range from four to 50 years, and may be extended in some cases,” government sources report.
The democratization of the Official Secrets Law languishes in Moncloa 54 years and 80 extensions later
The classification time will depend on the nature of the information. The new rule incorporates, in line with European and allied standards, four categories: top secret, secret, confidential and restricted. So far there are only two: secret and reserved. The Government will allow content deemed ultra-sensitive to be secretly extended beyond 50 years, which is the highest general bracket. However, government sources point out that this term may be modified in the parliamentary process.
With the update of the norm, it will be the Ministry of the Presidency, and not the Ministry of Defense as before, which will have the prerogative to classify and declassify the information. The change is due to the new times, as explained in the Executive, given that the secret documentation goes beyond the nature of national security from the military point of view, which is the concept that guided the pre-constitutional law. For this reason, it is necessary to respond to a more “transversal and interministerial coordination” concept, given that the information may be of an economic, industrial, etc. nature. In the case of the current cabinet, the responsibility would fall, as soon as the law enters into force, on Félix Bolaños and not on Margarita Robles.
“The law establishes a National Authority for the protection of classified information, with powers, among others, to guarantee compliance with regulations, coordination and support of the units of each ministry and relationship with international authorities in the matter. ”, explain government sources. However, the Council of Ministers will be the one that formally classifies the documentation and, therefore, the one that has the capacity to lift the restriction.
The renewal of the official secrets law has been choked since 2016, when the PNV took an initiative to Congress with the aim that reserved information, related to issues such as the GAL or the attempted coup of 23F, see the light. Six years later and with 80 extensions in Parliament so far in the legislature, Pedro Sánchez promised in the middle of the espionage scandal to accelerate the project on which the Government was working. It was then that he assured that it was an “unpostponable” matter. He also proposed updating the norm that regulates the National Intelligence Center (CNI), although that proposal will have to wait longer.
The PNV proposed a limit of 25 years with an extension of 10
During the debate on the state of the nation, the president told the PNV spokesman, Aitor Esteban, that he intended to approve the law in July. He will do it in the last Council of Ministers before the summer break. In the Government they trust that the initiative will go down well with the rest of the groups, although they remember that this is the first round before it passes through the mandatory reports of institutions such as the Council of State and that it is also subject to changes in the parliamentary process.
The deadlines given by the Government’s proposal are much higher than the bet of the Basque nationalists – and also of the plans that the PSOE had until now in the amendments that it came to present to the proposal that was being processed in Congress. The intention of the PNV is that sensitive materials can only remain in the drawers for 25 years (and an extra ten in exceptional cases and justified by the Government).
In 2018, the Socialists agreed with this approach and defended in the parliamentary processing of the new law of official secrets -which failed with the subsequent electoral advance- that the classified matters see the light within a period of 25 years with the possibility of a single extension of 10. The PSOE amendment gave the Government a margin of 10 years to publicize the matters currently classified and for which that period of a quarter of a century had already passed. “It is about establishing a transitory regime that ensures the correct application of the regulatory modification”, argued the PSOE in the “motivation” of that amendment. The Government now extends the maximum reservation period to 50 and gives the possibility of extending it from that date if the Executive considers it and the small print of the text remains to be seen to know when the documents that were classified before they would see the light of day. the new norm is in force, such as, for example, those related to 23F or espionage on independence leaders.