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.

Group: Political Data

Trend in 2021:

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2017

Trend towards greater risk

Previously: Critically Endangered

Imminence of Action

Action is recommended within twelve months, detailed assessment is a priority.

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

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

Examples 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

2021 Review: The nature and extent of political campaigning online continues 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 grave concern, leading to the 2020 trend towards reduced risk, which the 2021 Jury agreed has continued with the continuation of significant political and economic upheaval, in part because of the pandemic though also because of popular protest and the outcomes of elections around the world. Moreover it has 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. 

Additional Jury Comments

This would be a break down in political systems and a break down in trust.

I think time would be needed to advocate for the importance of preserving the records as well as immediate action.

Maybe it is not the duty of archives or libraries to preserve the falsification but to preserve the constituent pieces to allow researchers to infer elimination, falsification or concealment. Web harvesting organizations will pick up web and possibly some social media. Will others pick up the rest?

The risk is high because some of the data will be in difficult to reach platforms. Some inevitable loss.

Is there a technological path to capturing and protecting this information before deletion or manipulation? This could well be the basis for crowdfunding and/ or crowd implementation.

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. Online at: https://opendatabarometer.org/

  • Ovenden, R., (2020) Undelete our government. DPC Blog. Available at: https://www.dpconline.org/blog/undelete-our-government


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