This review was written by Siân Morgan, who attended the conference on a student bursary.
On a cold, late November Tuesday, twelve speakers, spread across two days of discussions presented and shared their experiences of what Threats to Openness in the Digital World meant to them. There is, of course, not enough space to present all the topics and discussions that took place but hopefully an overview of these discussion can be achieved.
I was very fortunate to have attended on a student space, having recently finished my MA in Archive Administration. Throughout my course and my research project, there was an understandable focus on the role of the digital world on making information more accessible, but as was commented on, this is where the risk of access becomes stronger.
Julie McLeod opened the conference with reference to the terrorist attacks in Paris and how access to information and sharing information throughout the EU was being looked at more and more. The balance of security and privacy is one that reaches the papers everyday and Julie went on to question if technology was prepared for the challenges this would present. Would this have a positive impact on openness or would a failure of the technology actually threaten the openness?
Michael Moss and Tim Gollins’s The Digital Context got the sessions underway with the issue of sensitivity of records. What came out of this packed talk was, as Tim Gollins reiterated on the focus on sensitivity review, it is the Why, What, to Whom, When and in What context a records was created. The technological advances cannot compete with a human ability which identify these sensitive records. When entire files are made available, access is greater but so in turn is the risk.
David Thomas followed and his talk moved into discussing how the task of cataloguing the propaganda methods of ISIS is to a certain extent being neglected. The discussion of political Vs technological, David was firmly in the political camp. With social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter deleting accounts of ISIS users, it brings this leads to the question of who is cataloguing their communication, and one could argue their history. Understanding the recruitment efforts and the appeal of ISIS is a way in which access to the digital world can expand its aims for transparency.
A risk that was also acknowledged was a temptation to close records because of a lack of time and recourses leads to a risk of sleepwalking into a regime of closed access and this in turn breads conspiracy theories.
And so to Wednesday, the day ahead offered another wide range of speakers which started with David Edros on the legal perspective of threats to openness in the digital world. David Wilcox followed with a review of the work being done at the TNA, the successes enjoyed but also the challenges experienced. He gave such an excellent summary of the problems of transferring born digital record from public records to the TNA. Through the presentation, David Wilcox acknowledged the complexity of reviewing digital files owing to their fractured layout rather than the traditional page by page process.
Looking outside the UK was next with Agnes Jonker from the Netherland who detailed the experiences of the Netherlands with regards to access in the digital world with a simple but effective diagram of the changes in records management.
Arthur Lucas brought the discussion to question what is of historical interest, and who dictates it? One could argue that this can be used to control records being preserved, do we really need to keep 3 copies of the same report? If these were political reports and were presented to MPs and included scribbles in the margins, Arthur Lucas argued in the interests of openness, Yes.
We can’t second guess what people will be interested in the future, the scribbles on the margins are relevant, but if they are not included in the preserved document, full transparency cannot be achieved.
Mary Daly gave a fast paced presentation and showed exactly what can happen if events are not recorded and preserved. This lack of understanding, or perhaps the worry of decision makers to record their actions is a basic principle of record keeping and yet remained an issue that needed addressing. What was clear from the responses and the discussions throughout the conference was that the Threat to Openness in the Digital World varied from political to technological and the complex digital to the basic principles of record keeping.
Thank you again to the committee of the Threats to Openness in the Digital World for allowing me to attend and write a short piece. I hope I was able to highlight the main points of discussion especially the main points being made by the speakers, I am only sorry I could not include everything