Informatics buffaloed, Recording Confusion

LISNews is reporting that the School of Informatics at Buffalo is being dissolved. The school was only seven years old, and was apparently the merger of various departments including LIS and Communications. It’s kind of hard to say why exactly the school is being shuffled to other departments- there’s a new president, some of the existing faculty may have not been happy with the direction of the school, and so on. Some faculty are understandably upset by this unexpected news. I’m not certain if this means anything for schools of Informatics or Information, except perhaps some faculty members will be looking to relocate.

The Daily Texan recently provided an editorial on open records at UT, involving the now-being-formed University College. Wait, now it’s the Baccalaureate College. The end of the article notes that not all emails were provided- only the emails sent to the entir committee involved with the formation of the college were handed over, in print form. Records at UT are interesting. There’s a records retention office, but it’s located out of the accounting department. The fully-funded position of a University Archivist no longer exists. Some records-related issues (like SSN remediation) are handled by Information Technology staff (that does include me at the school level). The state records retention laws are not really sufficient to deal with universities, especially given the complexities that universities have involving the intellectual property of faculty members and the ways that public universities in Texas are funded. It’s difficult to say what qualifies as a record based on existing state law. The state officials think the law is all-encompassing, and other officials seem to disagree with that interpretation. Electronic records add complexity to the issue, given the lack of electronic records infrastructure. The state hasn’t really come up with solutions, either. Part of the problem is that people are treating electronic records as a new problem that will be solved by the swooping in of some easy to use and affordable technology. That’s not going to happen. Several of the current problems involving electronic records have nothing to do with technology at all.

No more Public Access Terminals at UT?

I’m using my lunch break to browse the University of Texas at Austin’s Libraries Administrative Council minutes and UT’s Library Committee minutes. I think it’s a great thing that these minutes are made available to the public. They’re usually open records, and there’s some interesting and useful information publicly available there (sometimes if you read between the lines).

I spotted something interesting in the May 31st minutes: “Campus IT group has started discussion about discontinuing public access to campus workstations. Libraries will develop a process to grant temporary EIDs to the public.”

This is interesting for several reasons. One, it looks like it is the result of pressure from either ITS and/or the Information Security Office. What are management implications for library information technology decisions made under these circumstances? Is it a common occurrence? Is it a cause for concern? (That’s before noting that the current method for granting temporary EIDs is time-consuming and difficult).

Two, and more importantly, what does it mean for the privacy of patrons? Is anonymity an important concept on the web in the library? Because the EID authentication system is handled through UT centrally, I’m pretty certain that these records aren’t controlled by the library. Should the browsing of patrons be considered in the same way we consider library circulation records? I can’t imagine that these ideas weren’t discussed- well, I could imagine it, but I’m sure the administration must have given some thought to the subject. What have other people done, and is it something to worry about?

So, the net won’t be neutral…

That the vote was mostly along party lines is probably telling somehow. I see being charged more for bandwidth I’ve already paid for.

Records: Old, new, archaeology

From the Washington Post, The Amateur Sleuth Who Gave the Archives a Red Face. The story is about the researcher who discovered the questionable reclassification of documents in the National Archives, and it gives a good summary of the events that have occurred since the discovery. An important question that the story didn’t ask is a pretty basic one: So what? It’s interesting that a lot of people assume that the importance of records and archives is well understood by everyone, but I’m no longer so certain. An older story from the Post does a better job of answering this question, and this Slate article goes even further. Altering records and access to records affects history. It affects the transparency and running of our government. Removing records because they are embarrassing (as the Slate article alleges) is wrong. Any national security argument that proposes otherwise is ludicrous. Arguing for secrecy removes oversight.

Michael Schiavo is currently involved in a records issue. Namely, according to Florida law, his email while working for the state of Florida is considered a public record under Florida’s Public Records Law, and a newspaper has requested and been unable to obtain access to these emails. The article appears to be somewhat hostile towards Schiavo, but it very much illustrates some of the common problems involved in electronic records retention as it applies to email. These problems are not unique to Florida (although Florida does have some very interesting cases for some reason).

Finally, when it comes to electronic records, is there a more definitive source than the Onion? A story reports that recently discovered email gives hints as to what life was like back in the mid90s primitive Internet society. Truly, we are living in marvelous times.

Records, Privacy

The Managing Electronic Records Conference put on by Cohasset Associates was a very good experience. I attended as a student volunteer, and I met several persons in schools similar to our iSchool across the country, as well as vendors, consultants, professionals, and so on.

Electronic records aren’t exactly a recent interest of mine- I’ve been looking into retention schedules and how they might impact my job for some time. I’ve also had an interest in privacy and security. Recently, though, as I’ve been looking into archives and electronic records, the records management issues both at work and in the world have affected the way I examine these other issues.

Two stories from BNA’s Internet Law News today caught my interest:
Industry, Others Object to Data Retention
The story is about Alberto Gonzales’ call for greater records retention on the part ISPs. Once again, the excuses for this proposed action come from increased law enforcement powers related to terrorism and child pornography. However, ISPs are noting that there are security, privacy, technical and other issues related to this proposal. Government has been very much failing in privacy-related matters recently. This particular matter also affects ISPs such as universities and libraries, and many of these institutions as a matter of regular operation don’t keep transitory logs, for good reason. The privacy of students and patrons is incredibly important, as both a matter of established law and institutional or professional values. We haven’t really seemed to have good public discussions about privacy and why people should care about privacy, related to abuse, dignity, and so on. That type of talk needs to be part of the decision-making process.

We’re also constantly bombarded with one of the risks of records retention: stolen and lost information, and the risk of identity theft. See the second story from BNA News, Toronto Firm at Center of Security Breach. A piece of equipment that had the names and social security numbers of 1.3 MILLION students has been lost. These aren’t Canadian students, either- they’re students who borrowed from a Round Rock, TX based loan institution. Yes, just next to Austin. So, what are the risks to keeping even more personal information that wouldn’t have been kept in the first place? Privacy and data protection laws exist for a reason. They’re not just to limit cost and liability, although those certainly affect businesses. We really need a full understanding of the possibly harms that could come from such a law, instead of the rush from certain members of Congress to pass these things through.

Of course, there are also many procedural issues. Laws that affect records exist at both the federal (Sarbones-Oxley, FERPA) and state (library, government records) levels. There are also regulatory and legal concerns that govern record keeping behavior. These would need to be reconciled with such a broad change.