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Protection of state secrets

State secret is information, the disclosure of which will jeopardize the security of the Republic of Estonia or impair its foreign relations. The content of state secrets is specified in the State Secrets and Classified Information of Foreign States Act and in the Government of the Republic Regulation No. 262 of 20 December 2007 "Procedure of Protection of State Secrets and Classified Information of Foreign States".

The Estonian Internal Security Service is a security authority, the goal of the activity of which is to maintain national security. Accordingly, protection of state secrets pursuant to the Security Authorities Act is one of the main tasks of the Internal Security Service. In the 1990s the Internal Security Service was responsible for everything related to the protection of state secrets and supervision over protection thereof in the Republic of Estonia. However, the circle of responsible agencies has widened in the course of time. In addition to the Estonian Internal Security Service ensuring the protection of state secrets in Estonia is also within the sphere of responsibility of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service and the General Staff of the Defence Forces.

The Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service organises INFOSEC in the field of state secrets and monitors compliance with the pertinent requirements, it organises and supervises the protection of state secrets in foreign representations and in structural units and subunits of the Defence Forces located outside the territory of the Republic of Estonia, in some cases also performs security vetting.

The General Staff of the Defence Forces organises and supervises compliance with the protection measures of state secrets in the Defence Forces and in the National Defence League. In the period of 1998 - 2008 the General Staff of the Defence Forces also performed security vetting in the Defence Forces and in the National Defence League. Since 1 January 2009 the aforesaid function is within the competence of the Estonian Internal Security Service. The function of the Estonian National Security Authority at the Estonian Internal Security Service is protection of classified information of foreign states processed in the Republic of Estonia and in its foreign representations.

Classified information of foreign states means information that is classified as secret by a foreign state, the European Union, NATO or any other international organisation or institution established under an international agreement and communicated to Estonia as well as information created by the Republic of Estonia for the performance of an international agreement and which is to be classified pursuant to the international agreement. Thus, there are several agencies in the Republic of Estonia responsible for the protection of classified information. However, in the event of non-compliance with the requirements set for the protection of state secrets, in which case either misdemeanour or criminal proceedings shall be initiated, the body conducting the pre-trial proceedings is the Estonian Internal Security Service, irrespective of the fact whether the violation was committed in the civil or military sector or in the foreign representations of the Republic of Estonia.

Pursuant to the current State Secrets and Classified Information of Foreign States Act state secrets have four levels. Depending on the need for protection state secrets are classified at one of the following levels: "restricted", "confidential", "secret" and "top secret". This classification corresponds to that of NATO and the European Union but also to the classification used by most member states of the aforesaid institutions. Some states, however, have adopted significantly fewer levels of state secrets (a comparative table of foreign states).  Prior to 1998 Estonia also had only one level of state secrets under the designation "secret". The "restricted" level was added to the national law only on 1 March 2003. As to the content, state secrets can be classified according to areas: 1) state secrets related to foreign relations; 2) state secrets related to national defence; 3) state secrets related to maintenance of law and order; 4) state secrets related to security authorities; 5) state secrets related to infrastructure and protection of information.

Protection of state secrets constitutes in itself a set of different measures, the aim of which is to avoid the disclosure of classified information and prevent it from falling into the possession of unauthorized persons. The protective measures of state secrets can be classified into four groups:

  • physical security - shall ensure that state secrets are processed only in rooms specially adapted for that purpose and the access of possible intruders to state secrets would be prevented.
  • document security - shall ensure that the location of all classified media and the circle of persons who have been exposed to the media would be identifiable at any time;
  • personnel security - shall ensure that the persons having access to the information would be reliable and posing no such security risks which would call into question the preservation of state secrets entrusted to them.
  • INFOSEC - shall ensure in the electronic form (in computers and in means of communication) preservation and protection of state secrets that are processed.

As all these measures entail a certain number of special requirements that differ from the so-called standard document management and operations procedure, the Estonian Internal Security Service is always ready to explain to the persons processing state secrets or willing to process state secrets in the future what these special requirements consist in and how it is most expedient to protect classified information that is in their possession. To this end the Estonian Internal Security Service conducts trainings and gives advice also by phone and e-mail.

If you have any questions, please contact:

Internal Security Service phone number: (+372) 612 1455

E-mail: [email protected]