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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

NARA seeking public comment on a proposed rule concerning the digitization of public records

The first 2 weeks of 2021 have been a whirlwind and have included a failed insurrection at the nation’s capitol and the SECOND(!) impeachment of President Trump for inciting that insurrection!

However crazy things may be at the moment, I wanted to call our readers’ attention to an extremely important announcement in the Federal Register regarding a proposed rule “Digitizing Permanent Records and Reviewing Records Schedules.”

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is proposing to “…amend our electronic records management regulations to add a subpart containing standards for digitizing permanent Federal records so that agencies may dispose of the original source records, where appropriate and in accordance with the Federal Records Act amendments of 2014. We are also making a minor revision to our records schedule review provisions to establish a requirement for agencies to review, every five years, all records schedules that are ten years old and older, based on the date the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) approved the schedule.”

The public commenting period is open UNTIL FEBRUARY 1, 2021. Please submit comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal Regulations.Gov. Follow the site’s instructions for submitting comments and include the Regulatory Information number RIN 3095-AB99 on the submission. As the FR notes, due to COVID, paper mail submissions are not recommended.

If anyone submits a a public comment, I’d really appreciate if you could copy it to comments on this blog post. Share what interests or disturbs you about NARA’s proposed rule.

Reclaim the Records “mother-of-all-FOIA requests” and NARA’s new digitization partnership site

An activist group called Reclaim the Records recently submitted the “mother-of-all-FOIA requests” asking for billions of pages scanned through NARA’s public-private digitization partnership program. Here’s the twitter thread describing it:

Well now at least NARA has put up a page showing all of their digitization partners and what publications/record groups these organizations are scanning. It looks mostly to be ancestry, fold3 and familysearch, but there are other groups like the National Archives of Korea, National Collection of Aerial Photography (UK), and NOAA (Logbooks from 19th century naval ships and expeditions!).

From what I can tell, these scans seem to be going into NARA’s catalog and are freely available! Thanks NARA and also BIG thanks Reclaim the Records for making a big public deal about NARA’s public-private partnership program and making sure that the public is aware of those BILLIONS of scanned pages.

NARA digitizes 374 treaties between indigenous peoples and the US

Thanks to an anonymous donation, the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has “conserved and digitized the Ratified Indian treaties in its holdings,” 374 treaties between indigenous peoples and the United States (and its predecessor colonies). The IDA Treaties Explorer lets one also explore maps and see which tribes are associated with which treaties. This is an amazing collection of historical documents!

[HT to Kottke.org: Home of Fine Hypertext Products!]

Comments to NARA re Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Document Destruction Proposal

Earlier this week, we posted to let readers know about the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) draft records schedule submitted to NARA that would destroy important civil rights records. CBP was asking for NARA’s approval to destroy after four years “records developed to track and monitor complaints that are or will be investigated by DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) regarding alleged violations of civil rights and civil liberties” and associated “Requests for Information” (NARA RFC Control Number DAA-0568-2018-0001).

CBP further proposed 25-year retention periods for “records pertaining to administrative and criminal investigations on [CBP] employees, contractors, and those in CBP custody,” as well as records and reports pertaining to Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) allegations. A July 9, 2020 NARA appraisal memorandum accompanying the Proposed CBP Schedule recommends approving it in full (Appraisal Memorandum is at the end of the proposed CBP records schedule (p11-14)). The ACLU has more background and context on these important records.

A group of organizations working on immigration issues, government accountability, civil liberties, refugee and immigration history, libraries, and more (including PEGI Project and FGI!) have signed on to a letter to NARA raising deep concerns (PDF) regarding CBP’s proposed records schedule and requesting that NARA revise the schedule and permanently retain the records at issue. The letter is extremely thorough and deeply researched and shows how researchers use NARA’s records, puts agencies’ FOIA support (or lack thereof) in historical relief, and offers a strong argument for why these records in particular from the CBP should be designated as permanent.

I encourage our readers to read the letter. Records retention of federal agency records is extremely important to a wide swath of professional, library, and civil society organizations. And this is a great example for how to write a comment to a federal agency.

Please send comments to NARA re CBP’s draft records schedule seeking to destroy important civil rights records

[UPDATED 9/28/2020 5:30pm PST: I’ve taken down the link to the Google form. Please submit comments via REGULATIONS.GOV. Thanks! JRJ]

[UPDATED 9/29/2020: I deleted the link to the letter since it was a draft. When the final letter is published, I’ll be sure to post. JRJ]

**** DEADLINE for INDIVIDUAL PUBLIC COMMENTS is WEDNESDAY 30 September ****

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has extended the commenting period to 30 September on a proposed records schedule regarding Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) (Control Number DAA-0568-2018-0001), 85 FR 47248 (Proposed CBP Schedule).

CBP seeks NARA’s approval to destroy after four years “records developed to track and monitor complaints that are or will be investigated by DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) regarding alleged violations of civil rights and civil liberties” and associated “Requests for Information.”

CBP further proposed 25-year retention periods for “records pertaining to administrative and criminal investigations on [CBP] employees, contractors, and those in CBP custody,” as well as records and reports pertaining to Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) allegations. A July 9, 2020 NARA appraisal memorandum accompanying the Proposed CBP Schedule recommends approving it in full (Appraisal Memorandum).

FGI has signed on to a DRAFT letter to NARA raising deep concerns (PDF) regarding CBP’s proposed records schedule and requesting that NARA revise the schedule and permanently retain the records at issue. The comments were crafted by groups working on immigration issues, government accountability, civil liberties, refugee and immigration history, and more. The letter is extremely thorough and shows how researchers use NARA’s records and and offers a strong argument for why these in particular from the CBP should be designated as permanent.

If any of our readers would like to submit individual comments, please feel free to submit directly via regulations.gov (Control Number DAA-0568-2018-0001). You can also read others’ comments on regulations.gov.

**** DEADLINE for INDIVIDUAL PUBLIC COMMENTS is WEDNESDAY 30 September ****

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