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Robert Gildea, Professor of Modern History at University of Oxford, has this comment about the movement to get the UK’s Foreign Office to release a massive archive of public documents in The Conversation, an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community.
- Public interest demands the release of hidden colonial files, Robert Gildea, The Conversation (27 January 2014).
There is a sharp contradiction when GCHQ operations tell us that the government will stop at nothing to unearth information about its own and other people, while people’s right to call their government to account for past actions is stone-walled.
The Guardian reports that historians describe “a scandalous act of concealment” underlines the need for a major overhaul of the system for declassification of government papers as public records.
Academics consider legal action to force Foreign Office to release public records, by Ian Cobain, The Guardian (Jan 13, 2014)
Leading historians are calling on the UK’s Foreign Office to “come clean” over its plans for a massive archive of public documents, which it has unlawfully kept hidden for decades, prompting accusations that it has been attempting to manipulate impressions of Britain’s past.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has hoarded 1.2m files – some of them dating back to the 1840s – in breach of the 30-year rule of the Public Records Act, which should have seen them transferred to the National Archive.
The Guardian wrote yesterday, “Conservative party deletes archive of speeches from internet.” The Conservative Party has attempted to delete from their website — as well as from the Internet Archive! — all their speeches and press releases online from the past 10 years, including one in which David Cameron promises to use the Internet to make politicians ‘more accountable’.
This is troubling news, but something as old as politicians — see for example ALA’s long-running serial “Less access to less information by and about the US government” which ran from 1981 – 1998. But it should also come as yet another warning to librarians and archivists of the dire need to harvest and preserve government information and store content off of .gov servers.
The party has removed the archive from its public website, erasing records of speeches and press releases from 2000 until May 2010. The effect will be to remove any speeches and articles during the Tories’ modernisation period, including its commitment to spend the same as a Labour government.
The Labour MP Sheila Gilmore accused the party of a cynical stunt, adding: “It will take more than David Cameron pressing delete to make people forget about his broken promises and failure to stand up for anyone beyond a privileged few.”
In a remarkable step the party has also blocked access to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, a US-based library that captures webpages for future generations, using a software robot that directs search engines not to access the pages.
The Tory plan to conceal the shifting strands of policy by previous leaders may not work. The British Library points out it has been archiving the party’s website since 2004. Under a change in the copyright law, the library also downloaded 4.8m domains earlier this year – in effect, anything on the web with a .co.uk address – and says although the Conservative pages use a .com suffix they will be added to the store “as it is firmly within scope of the material we have a duty to archive”. But the British Library archive will only be accessible from terminals in its building, raising questions over the Tory commitment to transparency.
Computer Weekly, which broke the story, pointed out that among the speeches removed were several where senior party members promised, if elected, to use the internet to make politicians accountable.
Gary Price at INFOdocket reminds us that “The UK House of Commons and House of Lords Libraries publish and update a large amount of research briefings each day.” These are analogous to US CRS reports.
Check out Gary’s post on this for more links and suggestions:
- Selection of New Research Briefing Papers from UK House of Commons and House of Lords Libraries, by Gary D. Price, INFOdocket (December 1, 2011)
- Research briefings, UK Parliament.
This page provides access to research briefings produced by the Libraries of the House of Commons and House of Lords and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). You can find research briefings by sorting by date, type, or one of 350 topics.