Germany’s parliament has voted to transfer the secret files of the Stasi, the intelligence service in communist East Germany, to the national archives despite concerns from researchers.
Millions of files compiled on suspect citizens during the Cold War have been managed independently since the communist state collapsed.
Officials says the files will be better preserved and still be accessible.
But critics warn that “a lid will be put on history”.
The Stasi, short for Staatssicherheit (state security), was notorious for its surveillance of East Germany’s citizens, many of whom were pressed into spying on each other.
When the Soviet-supported state collapsed in 1990, Stasi officers tried to destroy records – at first using shredders and then desperately tearing documents up by hand.
The Stasi’s offices were stormed by groups of “citizen committees” who seized all that was left of the documents to preserve them for future generations.
Since then, thousands of former East German residents have been able to read what the secret police knew about their lives – and which of their friends, family and colleagues had informed on them.
Following the vote in parliament, federal commissioner for the records Roland Jahn said that millions of documents could now be better preserved and digitised. At the moment only 2% of the archive is recorded digitally.
He also promised that the files would still be accessible to historians, journalists and former victims of the Stasi.
He said he aimed to make the documents “fit for the future as we can tap the expertise, technology and resources under the roof of the Federal Archives”.