1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Secret

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For works with similar titles, see Secret.

SECRET (Lat. secretum, hidden, concealed), that which is concealed from general knowledge. In special senses the word is applied to (a) a prayer in the Roman and other liturgies, said during mass by the priest in so low a voice that it does not reach the congregation, and (b) a covering or skull-cap made of steel fitting close to the head.

In law, the question of secrecy is an important one. Generally, English law does not require a solicitor or barrister to disclose secrets entrusted to them by a client, and the same probably holds good in the case of medical men. In the case of ministers of religion, it has never been definitely settled how far they can be compelled to disclose in evidence what has been confided in the secrecy of the confessional. But according to the 113th Canon, a priest of the Church of England would commit an ecclesiastical offence in revealing a secret disclosed to him' in confession “except it be such as by the laws of this realm his own life may be called into question for concealing the same.” As to what are called “trade secrets,” it had been decided (Merryweather v. Moore, 1892, 2 Ch. 518) that it is a breach of contract to reveal trade secrets acquired during service.

Official Secrets.—By the Official Secrets Act 1889 it was made a misdemeanour for an official to communicate any information or documents concerning the military or naval affairs of Her Majesty, to any person to whom it ought not to be communicated. If the information be communicated to a foreign state it is a felony. In Germany the betrayal of military secrets is punishable under an imperial law of 1893.

Secret Service.—In practically every civilized country, there is always a department of the government charged with the duty of espionage, either diplomatic or domestic. Its officials work in secret, and certain sums of money are placed at the disposal of the head of the department, and expended as he may think lit, without having to render any specific account of them. Various departments of governments have also their own departmental secret service, for the better guarding against frauds, such as in the United States, the Treasury Department and the Post Office.

The various European codes generally have dealt with breach of secrecy, e.g. s. 300 of the German Penal Code imposes a fine up to 1500 marks and imprisonment up to three months on doctors, attorneys and other professional persons who reveal a secret entrusted to them in their professional capacity. For this offence also the French code, art. 378, imposes imprisonment of from one to six months and a fine of from 100 to 500 francs.

See Brouardel, Le Secret médical (Paris, 1893); Hallays, Le Secret professionnel (Paris, 1890).