Practically Extinct small

Records created in the course of public administration and subject to public records legislation but created on unofficial channels and platforms and therefore subject to unlawful destruction whether by accident or design.

Group: Digital Legal Records

Trend in 2021:

Unanimous Decision

Added to List: 2019

No Change

Previous classification: Practically Extinct

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

Loss seems likely: by the time tools or techniques have been developed the material will likely have been lost.

Examples

Content and messages from cloud based instant messaging services (such as WhatsApp Telegram or Snapchat) that pertains to public administration and is subject to public records legislation but concealed from or inaccessible to archival agencies. 

‘Critically Endangered’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Archival pathway; public officials briefed on the nature of public records and the penalties for illegal disposal; boundary between public and private correspondence; cloud services administered transparently; export functions.

2021 Review

This entry was added in 2019 as a subset of an entry in 2018 for ‘Digital Legal Records and Evidence’, which the Jury split into four different entries in order to draw attention to the different challenges and priorities that arise. The 2019 Jury has gave this entry the strongest indication of risk available. This group includes those records which may contain politically damaging or uncomfortable realities and thus be at risk of deletion; and may be concealed from archival agencies whether by accident or design. The 2019 Jury also noted that the destruction of certain classes of public records is unlawful, whether or not it is deliberate.

The 2020 Jury added the trend towards greater risk based on the ‘pivot to digital’ necessitated by the Pandemic resulting in widespread changes in workflow and in platform for the delivery of government, with significant amounts of remote working.  These changes happened rapidly often without time to consider the preservation and record keeping implications.  In those circumstances it was reasonable to suppose the risks expanded in size as well as scope.

The 2021 Jury agrees with this assessment and classification but found no significant increase or decrease to the 2020 trend. The 2021 Jury also adds the comment that there should be a balance between trying to preserve what has already been created using these channels and trying to educate against/prevent records being created this way in the future.

Additional Jury Comments

This is a ‘small effort to fix’ in terms of the technology to export data. But loss seems likely unless there is stronger monitoring and enforcement of the policy around this.

Agencies responsible for the public record will not be able to completely control their public servants' use of unofficial channels (but could tighten), so they need methods to obtain from unofficial channels. Very important for public accountability and transparency of the state.

Obviously, these records should not be created using these channels in the first place. It is probably unlawful for those in public office. However, we know there has and always will be this kind of backdoor activity and pretty much always a scandal when it is revealed. The challenge is managing to collect it.


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