The issue of declassifying political files has recently become the subject of heated debate. Some civic organizations have been calling for legislative amendments, while Control Yuan reports have uncovered problems in the National Security Bureau’s confidential files.
When the Political Archives Act (政治檔案條例) was enacted in 2019, it was already apparent that it would run into problems. For years, national security and intelligence agencies have taken advantage of the law to keep documents under wraps when it is in their best interests to do so.
One of the most significant proposed revisions to the Political Archives Act concerns Article 11: “The full names, aliases, code names, and job titles of civil servants, witnesses, informants and information sources set out in political archives should be made available for viewing, handcopying, or duplication.”
Currently, Article 11 can be overridden by Article 8 of the National Intelligence Service Act (國家情報工作法), which enables intelligence agencies to either conceal evidence as they see fit or disregard applicants’ request for certain political documents.
The other reason that political archives cannot be fully open to the public is that some of them are defined by national security agencies as “permanently classified pursuant to the Classified National Security Information Protection Act (國家機密保護法).”
The proposed amendment, along with the Ministry of Justice’s proposed revision of the Classified National Security Information Protection Act, seeks to remove the “permanently classified” regulation.
According to the proposed amendment to the Political Archives Act, once every 10 years, a political file would be reviewed and a determination would be made as to whether it should be declassified.
However, the justice ministry’s proposal does not put a limit on the number of reviews, which means files could still be “permanently classified.” In other words, as the files can be reviewed repeatedly, the agencies can refuse to declassify documents that are disadvantageous to them as many times as they need.
As a special act for archival control, the Political Archives Act should have stipulated specific regulations for “political files, especially for classified files that are considered controversial. Moreover, it should not be affected by the Classified National Security Information Protection Act. The political archives are the cornerstone of historical truth. Government agencies should not interfere with the declassification on the pretext of national security.
A consensus has already been formed on whether the political archives should be declassified. The proposed amendment should tackle the fundamental problem: Files that are more than 30 years old should be fully open to the public.
Lin Hai-sheng works in cultural conservation.
Translated by Emma Liu
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