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Arab Spring Diplomatics & Libyan Records Management 2011/09/05

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Best Practices, Digital Archives, Digital Preservation, Electronic Records, Information Technology (IT), Media, Records Management.
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At 75th Annual Meeting of the SAA (Society of American Archivists) last week, I had the fortunate opportunity to attend many very interesting panels, speeches and discussions on archives, archival education, standards, electronic records, digital forensics, photography archives, digital media, and my mind is still reeling.   But when I heard this story on the news radio frequency, I needed to double-check.

As you all know, the Arab Springrevolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests in the Arab world. Since 18 December 2010 there have been revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt;
civil uprisings in BahrainSyria, &Yemen; major protests in AlgeriaIraqJordanMorocco, and
 

Omanand minor protests civil war in Libya resulting in the fall of the regime there; in

Kuwait, LebanonMauritaniaSaudi ArabiaSudan, and Western Sahara! Egypian President Hosni Mubarak resigned (or retired) and there’s a Civil War going on in Libya.   Meanwhile, with poor records management, documents were found in Libya’s External Security agency headquarters showing that the US was firmly on their side in the War on Terror:

“CIA moved to establish “a permanent presence” in Libya in 2004, according to a note from Stephen Kappes, at the time the No. 2 in the CIA’s clandestine service, to Libya’s then-intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa.  Secret documents unearthed by human rights activists indicate the CIA and MI6 had very close relations with Libya’s 2004 Gadhafi regime.

The memo began “Dear Musa,” and was signed by hand, “Steve.” Mr. Kappes was a critical player in the secret negotiations that led to Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s 2003 decision to give up his nuclear program. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Kappes, who has retired from the agency, declined to comment.  A U.S. official said Libya had showed progress at the time. “Let’s keep in mind the context here: By 2004, the U.S. had successfully convinced the Libyan government to renounce its nuclear-weapons program and to help stop terrorists who were actively targeting Americans in the U.S. and abroad,” the official said.””

Shudder.

So I guess that means that if all of those documents from the CIA are secret, there would be no metric for tracing a record (at least on the US side).   In other words, every time a record is sent, copied or moved, a new version is created, but where is the original?  Depending on the operating system, the metadata may have a new Date Created.  How will anybody be able to find an authentic electronic record when it’s still stored on one person’s local system which is probably upgraded every few years?

There is a better way, a paradigm shift, and by looking at the Australian records continuum, “certainly provides a better view of reality than an approach that separates space and time”, we can find a better way so all [useless] data created is not aggregated.   With better and more appraisal, critical and analytical and technical and IP content, we can select and describe more completely the born digital assets and separate the wheat from the chaff, the needles and the haystacks, the molehills from the mountains, and (wait for it)  . . . see the forest for the trees.  By storing fewer assets and electronic records more carefully, we can actually guarantee better results.  Otherwise, we are simply pawns in the games of risk played (quite successfully) by IT Departments ensuring (but not insuring) the higher-ups that “we are archiving: we backup every week.” [For those who are wondering: when institutions “backup” they backup the assets one week, moves the tapes offsite and overwrite the assets the following week.  They don’t archive-to-tape for long-term preservation.]

Diplomatics may present a way for ethical archivists in to the world of IT, especially when it comes down to Digital Forensics.  But the point I’m ultimately trying to make, I think, is that electronic (or born digital) records management requires new skills, strategies, processes, standards, plans, goals and better practices than the status quo.  And this seems to be the big elephant in the room that nobody dares describe.

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