Security of classified material
Materials and information, regardless of their form, may be classified if it is in the public interest to keep them secret.
The aim of classification is to prevent the following threats:
threats to the existence or vital interests of the Federation or one of the German states (Länder), threats to the security of the Federation or a state, or serious harm to their interests, harm or disadvantages to interests of the Federation or a state.
Classification is thus a preventive measure to protect the state.
Most countries have foreign intelligence operations. From the perspective of the countries affected, such operations constitute espionage, which is subject to serious penalties due to the possible political, military and/or economic harm that may result. The Federal Republic is the target of industrial spying by foreign intelligence services.
Extremist and criminal organizations also try to find out what government agencies know about them, or what the government is planning in certain security-relevant areas.
In a liberal democracy, government action is grounded in transparency, so that every citizen can in principle see what government is doing. In the interest of domestic and foreign security and to protect its people, however, democratic governments must keep certain information – such as details of electronic defence systems or strategies to combat extremist or terrorist organizations – secret, if disclosure would endanger its ability to defend itself. This is why even neutral countries maintain security of classified material.
Information also plays a decisive role in military conflicts. For example, information about electronically driven weapons systems could allow an enemy to copy such systems or disable them via cyber warfare, resulting in high numbers of casualties on one’s own side.
International terrorist organizations are interested in certain government information in order to plan targeted attacks on government institutions, representatives or highly symbolic sites, for example, or to find out what the security authorities know about them.
The Security Clearance Check Act (SÜG) of 20 April 1994 and related administrative regulations provide the foundation for security of classified material.
The Act specifies which information is to be classified and defines the various classification levels based on the potential harm.
The Act also covers background checks of persons whose duties are to include access to classified material or who could gain access to such material.
Additional administrative regulations cover details concerning
- background checks and travel restrictions for persons with access or possible access to classified material (personnel security) (Security Clearance Check Act implementing regulation (AVV)), and
- technical and organizational security of classified material (physical security) (General Administrative Regulation on Physical and Organizational Protection of Classified Documents (VSA)).