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Dead medium: Officially Deleted Digital Documents
From: (Bruce Sterling)

Source; NCC Washington Update, vol. 2, #43, December 27, 1996; article by Page Putnam Miller, Director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History

(((A group of historians and librarians has filed suit against Mr John Carlin, the official Archivist of the United States. Their complaint is that historically valuable email and other governmental electronic documents are being wantonly destroyed despite their manifest historical value. The following is a much-edited communication on this topic from Page Putnam Miller, Director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History, and an activist in this lawsuit against the US National Archives and Records Administration )))

"Public Citizen, Historians, and Librarians File Suit Against The Archives Challenging Policies that Allow Destruction of Electronic Records

"On December 23 Public Citizen, joined by the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Library Association, filed a complaint against the National Archives in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

"The suit challenges the Archivist's promulgation of a 'General Records Schedule' authorizing all federal agencies, at their discretion, to destroy the only electronic version of Federal agency records stored on agency electronic mail and word processing systems, provided the agency has printed a hard copy of the electronic record on paper or microform.

"The complaint states that the Archivist has 'improperly ignored the unique value of electronic records' and 'has abdicated his statutory responsibility to appraise the historical value of such electronic records.' The complaint asks the court to declare the General Records Schedule 20 null and void, and to prevent agencies from destroying electronic records created, received or stored on electronic mail or word processing systems (...).

"This new lawsuit builds on the Armstrong v. Executive Office of the President (Civil Action No. 89- 0142). The inadequacy of National Archives' guidance to agencies on the preservation of e-mail was at the heart of that case, frequently called the PROFS case. (((The PROFS computer email of Lt. Col. Oliver North and others, which they had assumed to be deleted, eventually became central evidence in the Iran-Contra scandal in the United States == bruces)))

"In 1989 the National Security Council, as well as other agencies, routinely destroyed e-mail, which according to the National Archives did not meet the standard of a 'record'(...).

. "In general practice, before a government agency may destroy its records, it must give public notice and the Archivist must appraise the records to determine whether they warrant continued preservation. (...)

"Many in the historical and archival community (...) stressed that the National Archives was abdicating its role in appraising records with these regulations. There are values to records that go beyond their administration and operational use, and agencies are sometimes shortsighted in apprising the long term and historical value of records. The regulations give enormous authority to agency heads. (...)

"Additionally, with the changes in technology, some archivists are now recommending that information systems be appraised, not just individual records." _CASE rlin.html