In accordance with the Federal Archives Act (BArchG), every person has the right to view federal archive material. In some cases, however, the use of such material is restricted or initially not possible.
Federal archive material is generally made available 30 years after its creation. The time of a document’s creation is determined by the date it was last edited.
Archive material concerning natural persons may only be used without the consent of the data subjects 10 years after their death. If their year of death cannot be established – or only with an unreasonable amount of time and effort – the term of protection shall expire 100 years after the birth of the data subject. If their birthday cannot be established either – or only with an unreasonable amount of time and effort – the term of protection shall expire 60 years after the creation of the documents.
A 60-year term of protection applies to files that are subject to statutory confidentiality provisions, such as the tax secrecy stipulated in the German Fiscal Code, the confidentiality provisions set forth in the German Social Security Code, and the secrecy regulations of banks and credit institutes.
Certain terms of protection may be shortened upon request. This is particularly possible for academic research projects and the pursuit of legitimate interests, provided the legitimate interests of data subjects and their relatives are not adversely affected.
In accordance with Section 11 Paragraph 1 BArchG, the term of protection for holdings in the GDR Department is usually shortened to limit any restrictions posed to research. The 30-year term of protection stipulated in Section 11 Paragraph 1 BArchG does not apply to the holdings of the foundation “Archives of the Political Parties and Mass Organisations of the GDR”. However, the terms established in Section 11 Paragraph 2 BArchG do apply to archive material concerning natural persons.
The use of documents that are no longer subject to terms of protection may also be restricted if, for example, such usage would threaten the welfare of the Federal Republic of Germany or adversely affect the legitimate interests of data subjects.
Conservation reasons may prevent the use of archive material in the original. In order to protect and permanently preserve documents, substitute forms are provided where possible (digital copies, microfiches, microroll film).
The staff at the Federal Archives can provide more information on the accessibility and usage conditions of each item.