Maria Guercio

Maria Guercio

Last updated on 21 November 2018

Mariella Guercio is President of ANAI (Italian National Association of Archivists)

In the past few years, many initiatives have been developed to support or promote digital preservation infrastructures, specifically with reference to the quality of the repositories and to the definition of standards for interoperability. This might seem a promising opportunity for making concrete experiences and implementing technical solutions, but I think that the professionals in the preservation sector (mainly archivists and digital curators) should monitor very carefully these initiatives on digital preservation (for example, the ETSI draft for defining  policy and security requirements for trust service providers offering long-term preservation of digital signatures; and – even more -  the standard ISO 17068 “Information and documentation — Trusted third party repository for digital records,” with its narrow and limited definition of authenticity), for many reasons.

First, these initiatives mainly or exclusively focus on supporting the digital preservation of single items (a digital record or a digital object) based to the validation over time of digital signatures, and their proposals rely on a very weak and confused conceptual framework. Such framework does not define authenticity, but directs the repository administrative, financial and technical resources solely to the issuing of authenticity certificates for single digital records “for which authenticity has been verified before”.  These initiatives do not even specify how authenticity was verified before—whether by checking the identity of the record, its bitwise integrity, or contextual integrity—or by whom or where.

Second, preservation professionals do not define preservation as integrity control through technological means like checksum or hash algorithm, and reject the confusion between maintenance of current and semi-current records by the creator (i.e. recordkeeping) and preservation of non-current records by a trusted third party (even when the repository belongs to the creator, as it is the case with corporations like banks).

Archival digital preservation does not consist of the application and the verification of time stamping or digital signatures, neither of ongoing formats conversion. The trustworthiness of a digital repository is not the same as the security of the storage system, which is only a technological component of preservation. Digital preservation comprises all the principles, policies, and strategies that control the activities designed to ensure the materials’ (data, documents, records or archival fonds) physical and technological stabilization, as well as the protection of their intellectual content in context, during and across different generations of technology over time, irrespective of where they are stored.

The challenges of the digital environment we have to face are more complex and more exacting than checking bitstream integrity. In the year in which the InterPARES project (see and celebrates 20 years of successful research output and products,  and at a time when the digital dimensions of our lives  have transformed the features of archival material and consequently the methods of archival institutions and programs, archives and archivists must act as central and crucial mediators between technology and service providers and the public they serve by using the knowledge accumulated through avant-guard research to preserve the records of society rather than accumulating a huge amount of authenticated fragments, securely stored but not understandable.

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