Possible ways of having access to state security data
The Historical Archives of the State Security (ÁBTL) was founded as the legal successor of the Historical Office by the National Assembly of the Hungarian Republic to preserve the documents of the Hungarian State Security Service from 1944 and 1990. Besides its primary tasks (handling and classifying documents, providing access and availability for research), the institution participates in the scientific research of its material and the publication of its results. The scope of the ÁBTL has changed several times since its foundation, last time in 2017, when the collecting of foreign state security documents with relevance to Hungary was introduced as its new task.
Unlike other public archives, the Historical Archives has a special task: as stipulated by Act III of 2003 on the Foundation of the Historical Archives, persons concerned by its records can exercise their right to information self-determination; in other words, all citizens are entitled to access documents collected by the state security organs about them and their deceased family members and preserved in the archives. Requests can be submitted in person, by post and for some years via the online questionnaire on the institution’s webpage.
Like other archives, the Historical Archives grants free access to its material for academic and private research, the conditions of which are mainly the same as in most archives. The institution seeks to make its digitalised documents electronically accessible for researchers in the research room, thus several researchers can simultaneously study the same records, which are thus protected from physical damage; moreover, the process of anonymising personal data is also made simpler this way. The Historical Archives is on a par with Hungary’s two largest archives in regard to the number of researchers it attracts and especially the number of research cases.
Due to the increased interest in personal records, the oral history archive was set up within the data processing department in 2006. Interviews conducted by the institution’s archivists with former agents, operative and highly confidential officers as well as victims entered the archives upon joint agreement with the individuals concerned and are available for research with certain previously set conditions. The collecting of personal documents, collections and family estates began in the Historical Archives some years ago with the primary aim of supplementing the life histories of those featured in the dossiers.
The ÁBTL has regarded the development of a database to facilitate research as a priority task since its foundation. ÁBTLInfo replaces the original reference materials and simplifies the location of records within the archive. Having been continuously developed for the past twenty years, it currently holds ca 900 thousand names and 4 million (!) digitalised pages, and is able to perform more and more tasks of increasing complexity.