Official secrets—levels of secrecy
Official secrets—levels of secrecy

The following Public Law guidance note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Official secrets—levels of secrecy
  • Government security classifications
  • Legal framework
  • OFFICIAL classification
  • SECRET classification
  • TOP SECRET classification
  • Key principles

Government security classifications

The Government Security Classifications policy came into force on 2 April 2014. The policy is designed to ensure that information is classified, shared and protected as appropriate. It applies to all information (in any form) generated, processed, collected, stored or shared by the government in order to deliver services and conduct business. The security classifications indicate the sensitivity of the information in terms of the likely impact resulting from the compromise, loss or misuse of the information.

The 2014 regime introduced three levels of security classification:

  1. OFFICIAL

  2. SECRET

  3. TOP SECRET

Prior to this, there were six levels of security classification:

  1. UNCLASSIFIED

  2. PROTECTED

  3. RESTRICTED

  4. CONFIDENTIAL

  5. SECRET

  6. TOP SECRET

The aim of the revised regime is to simplify the process of handling official documents and to update a system which was developed for the handling of paper based materials in the hope of cutting costs and delay. Information classified using the old system did not need to be retrospectively re-marked, however, the Cabinet Office advised that departments consider re-marking documents when shared outside of the organisation.

Anyone working with government (including staff, contractors and service providers) has a duty of confidentiality and is personally responsible for safeguarding any government information that they access. Access to sensitive information should be granted on a need to know basis—although a common sense approach is encouraged,

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