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Tracking the unlawful or accidental removal of government records

In the age of digital information, it is easier than it ever has been for government agencies to alter or delete official records at the flick of a switch. The U.S. Code (Title 44) and Code of Federal Regulations (Title 36) require agencies to “prevent the unlawful or accidental removal, defacing, alteration, or destruction of records.” But the official government guidelines for Managing Web Records are 13 years old and are subject to interpretation by political appointees in individual agencies.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) investigates allegations of violations of this law and will assist agencies in retrieving records. Its Performance Accountability Report has, for for many years, provided an end-of-year snapshot of cases investigated.

This year, NARA has created a web dashboard, which it will update monthly, listing the “Unauthorized Disposition of Federal Records.” More information about this is available from the Sunlight Foundation:

The dashboard lists the agencies and records involved, the status of the investigation, and provides links to documentation about the events.

Recently listed events include the “Suspicious-activity reports (SARs)” (which were widely reported as being absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN)), and the use of private (non-.gov) email accounts by officials of Homeland Security. There are currently 24 open cases and 46 cases closed cases.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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