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What Does "Born Secret" Mean?

By Angela Farrer
Updated May 17, 2024
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Certain sets of information are designated born secret when they have restricted access from the very beginning. Born secret information usually contains descriptions and scientific test results of technologies that could potentially threaten the safety of a country's citizens. Laws concerning born classified data originate from actions of the United States (US) government during World War I and World War II. Officials placed secrecy restrictions on patents for specific weapons that could do a great deal of harm in the wrong hands. This kind of legislation was originally intended to be temporary, although it later became permanent under the Invention Secrecy Act that was passed into law in 1951.

High-ranking military and government officials are typically the only personnel with access to born secret information. Born classified inventions are subject to specific restrictions under the jurisdiction of national patent-granting agencies. Inventors are not given a general patent and are required to follow specific steps for keeping the details of their work a secret. This type of restriction is generally known as a secrecy order.

Governing bodies such as the US Department of State have strict and comprehensive guidelines for who may be granted access to a born secret. Both civilian and military workers are generally allowed to learn of this information only when absolutely necessary. They are usually required to agree to extensive background checks of both their career histories and personal characters to determine if they present risks of a security breach.

The exact details of born secret technologies are unknown, but some comparable inventions have had these restrictions lifted. These declassified items usually pertain to nuclear weapons or similar technology applied to national defense measures. Specifics of these weapons' design, fabrication, and operation are normally kept as classified information due to the possibilities of large-scale destruction in times of warfare.

Some types of born classified information are considered threats to a country's economic stability rather than to the security of its people or infrastructure. This data may include global trade details that could possibly be exploited if leaked to groups that wish to do harm to a certain nation. Depending on the laws of different countries, exposing this kind of secret information carries various degrees of punishment, according to the stringency of the applied secrecy orders. The legality of born secret restrictions has also been challenged as a possible violation of certain rights such as freedom of the press.

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Discussion Comments
By Telsyst — On Feb 15, 2014

The rise of computer technology has bred a whole new type of thief or spy, if you will, the hacker.

Some hackers work on their own or with espionage groups to obtain government secrets and sell them to the highest bidder.

Getting into top secret government computer networks is difficult, but for a computer genius that dedicates their life to this crime, it can be done.

By Certlerant — On Feb 15, 2014

No matter how well-guarded top secret information is, there will always be a human factor that could potentially compromise security.

For example, the military contracts production of top secret weapons and equipment to civilian companies.

Although the screening and security processes are intense, there will always be insiders willing to sell information.

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