Politically Sensitive Data

   Critically Endangered small

Digital content where the knowledge to preserve exists, and there is no threat to obsolescence, but where political interests may be served by elimination, falsification or concealment.

Digital Species: Political Data

Trend in 2022:

increased riskTowards even greater risk

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2017

Trend in 2023:

No change No Change

Previously: Critically Endangered

Imminence of Action

Immediate action necessary. Where detected should be stabilized and reported as a matter of urgency.

Significance of Loss

The loss of tools, data or services within this group would impact on people and sectors around the world.

Effort to Preserve | Inevitability

It would require a major effort to prevent or reduce losses in this group, possibly requiring the development of new preservation tools or techniques.


Online News; social media and web-based campaigning; social media relating to 2016 UK/EU referendum; Promises made in Scottish independence referendum 2014; US Environmental Data; UK Public Finance Initiative (PFI) documents; Recordings of Leinster House.

‘Practically Extinct’ in the Presence of Aggravating Conditions

Opaque terms and conditions that facilitate deletion or obfuscation; lack of access to web-harvesting; significant lobby interest; change of administration; data resides in single jurisdiction; reputational risk to collecting institution.

‘Endangered’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Robust political archives; robust preservation services for investigative journalists.

2023 Review

The nature and extent of political campaigning online continue to become more apparent. This has drawn attention to the manipulation of digital media but not explicitly the issue of deliberate deletion, alteration or concealment. GDPR provides a pretext for the disposal of records. The increased capability of archives to secure the content from outgoing governments and ministers is a source of encouragement, such as in Canada, accusations that the incoming Liberal government had wiped the memory of the outgoing Conservative government were shown to be unfounded. Nonetheless, there is a pressing need for a deep and comprehensive assessment of the risks faced by politically sensitive data and the impact which such deletions have on the public good. That another year should have passed without such an assessment is a matter of serious concern, leading to the 2020 trend towards increased risk, which the 2021 Jury agreed with the continuation of significant political and economic upheaval, in part because of the pandemic, but also because of popular protest and the outcomes of elections around the world. Moreover, they added how it had been widely reported that senior officials in government have avoided scrutiny and record-keeping laws by using self-deleting messaging applications. In these circumstances, politically sensitive records are likely to be at greater risk.

The 2022 Taskforce agreed on a trend towards even greater risk based on the increased significance of elimination, falsification or concealment in light of political upheaval, social and economic inequalities and climate change. The case of political upheaval and protest in Iran has further amplified the risks here. Anonymous digital art and social media activism have burgeoned in response to gendered violence and acts of political repression in the latter half of the year. However, preservation infrastructures, such as national libraries and collecting archives within universities are conflicted, therefore unlikely, unable or unwilling to preserve content that is explicitly and radically critical of the regime.

The 2023 Council agreed with the Critically Endangered classification with overall risks remaining on the same basis as before (no change to the trend). They also provided discussion and comments around GDPR abuses. GDPR can be abused for blocking access to public records and political data. The existence of “special category data” under GDPR is used to justify denying access even to people’s own data. These justifications usually do not reflect the reality of how GDPR works at all but it is used as a way to shut down these challenges.. 

Additional Comments

There is a question of whether it is the duty of archives/libraries to preserve the falsification but to instead preserve the constituent pieces to allow researchers to infer elimination, falsification or concealment.

See also:

  • World Wide Web Foundation, The Open Data Barometer, which provides a global measure of how governments are publishing and using open data for accountability, innovation and social impact, which looks at the 30 governments that have adopted the Open Data Charter and those that, as G20 members, have committed to G20 Anti-Corruption Open Data Principles. World Wide Web Foundation (n.d.) ‘The Open Data Barometer’. Available at: https://opendatabarometer.org/ [accessed 24 October 2023]

  • Ovenden, R., (2020) ‘Undelete our government’, Digital Preservation Coalition Blog. Available at: https://www.dpconline.org/blog/undelete-our-government [accessed 24 October 2023]

  • Mitcham, J. (2022) ‘What’s up with using WhatsApp?’, Digital Preservation Coalition Blog. Available at https://www.dpconline.org/blog/what-s-up-with-using-whatsapp [accessed 24 October 2023]

  • Example of data rescue work by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI), initially formed in November 2016 to document and analyze changes to environmental governance that would transpire under the Trump Administration. EDGI subsequently became the preeminent watchdog group for material on federal environmental data issues on government websites, and a national leader in highlighting President Trump’s impacts such as declines in EPA enforcement. See Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (n.d.) ‘Archiving Data’. Available at: https://envirodatagov.org/archiving/ [accessed 24 October 2023]

  • Johnston, L. and England, E. (2021) ‘A Framework Enabling the Preservation of Government Electronic Records’, Digital Preservation Coalition Blog. Available at: https://www.dpconline.org/blog/bit-list-blog/blog-nara-wdpd [accessed 24 October 2023]

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