International Alliance formed to address the challenge of Trust and digital records in an increasingly networked society


Published: April 19, 2013 by Dr. Pat Franks

An International Alliance has been funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to address the challenge of trust in a digital and networked society. The project, Trust and Digital Records in an Increasingly Networked Society, also known as the InterPARES Trust, began on April 2, 2013, and will be conducted over the next five years. This effort is supported by a number of international partners, including San Jose State University’s College of Applied Sciences and Arts.

To facilitate the work of the Alliance during the initial phases, members have been divided into geographic teams: North American, European, Latin American, Asia, Australasia, and Africa. A Multinational Institutions Team has also been formed with members from UNESCO, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Records Management Trust of London, International Centre for the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property of Roma Italy (ICCROM), and NATO Archives.

San Jose State University is a member of the North American Team. Dr. Charles Bullock, CASA Dean, is the partnership contact; Thomas Norris, City of San Jose Archivist, is a collaborator on the project; and I’m a co-applicant who will represent SJSU at meetings. In addition, SLIS part-time instructor, Gillian Oliver of New Zealand, is the director of the Australasia Team.

Rationale for the Project

In 2011 the world created an astonishing 1.8 zettabytes of information. By 2020 the world is expected to generate 50 times that amount.

The unprecedented growth of digital information, the diversity of file formats, and the accompanying challenges in determining what to trust, keep, secure, discard, and preserve has resulted in a renewed interest in and appreciation for the value of records and information management to the individual and the enterprise.

Individuals and organizations are increasingly saving and accessing records in the highly networked, easily hacked environment of the Internet, where current policies, practices and infrastructure prohibit us from being able to assess our trust in records relying on the practices used in the past.

People trust banks, phone companies, hospitals, government, and other entities to keep and maintain their digital data/records/archives on their behalf. However, they may not know where their records actually reside, how well they are being managed, or how long they will be available to them. Many organizations are amassing huge volumes of data that they use to provide a host of services, many of which focus on marketing and securing competitive advantage. This is the world of the so-called ‘big data,’ the exploitation of seemingly innocuous records (e.g. purchase orders) to produce data that can be re-manipulated to serve a host of purposes, not always noble. However, big data also fosters a range of democratic objectives, from promoting government transparency to supporting research to contributing to public-private sector goals and priorities.

The procedures used by authorities after the April 15th terrorist attack on the citizens of Boston at the end of the Boston Marathon clearly illustrate the vast amount of electronically stored information that can be accessed by authorities. The call to the public for information, including in the form of digital images and video, illustrates the power of crowdsourcing to aggregate desired information.

How can we make decisions related to trust in this new environment? Are there grounds for trusting the institutions and/or professionals who hold digital records about us to make the right decisions about keeping them safe and accessible only to those who have a right to see them, using them for good and in a transparent way, disposing of them when required, and selecting reliable Internet providers for storing and managing them? If yes, what are those grounds? Who has established them, and in the context of what values and purpose? The interconnectedness of the Internet is forcing us into one community without the benefit of gradually getting to know one another.

InterPARES Trust

Trust and Digital Records in an Increasingly Networked Society (i.e., InterPARES Trust) is a scholarly research project in pursuit of new knowledge. The Project will carry out its activities in an atmosphere of open scholarly debate and encourage the free flow of ideas and information amongst its various partners, as an international, interdisciplinary, multi-sector connection endeavor.

The focus of the project is on the relationship between organizations (both not-for-profit and for-profit) and given client groups (citizens, customers, readers, students, etc.), with client groups being concerned about the degree of ‘trust’ they can place on records generated and/or stored and accessed on the Internet and organizations being concerned about establishing and maintaining that trust. The same themes are also addressed within the context of organization to organization and client group to client group relationships.

This research will develop new knowledge on digital records kept on social media and in the cloud and on methods for identifying and protecting the balance between privacy and access, secrecy and transparency, the right to know and the right to oblivion in globally connected networks. It will propose law reform, and other infrastructural reform, model policies, procedures, and practices, and functional requirements for the systems in which Internet providers store and manage digital records.

The academic researchers committed to this project have expertise in archival science, records management, diplomatics, law, information technology, communication and media, e-commerce, health informatics, cybersecurity, information governance and assurance, digital forensics, computer engineering, and information policy. The empirical knowledge for this research comes from the researchers who are members of the professions having the highest stake in the questions being asked, e.g. law and law enforcement, journalism, records management, finances, health, and more.

The goal of the Project is to generate the theoretical and methodological frameworks that will support the development of integrated and consistent local, national and international networks of policies, procedures, regulations, standards and legislation concerning digital records entrusted to the Internet, to ensure public trust grounded on evidence of good governance, a strong digital economy, and a persistent digital memory.

Going Forward

Teams will meet over the next few months to develop a plan of work. I’m looking forward to participating with other members of the North American Team in Vancouver, British Columbia, June 4-5 and the first Plenary Session in Vancouver the third week in February 2014.


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