Sunday, February 27, 2005

Safe in Our Hands?

We have noted the implications of the new Freedom of Information Act elsewhere in this web site (Food for Thought and Freedom to Destroy Information.) However, an altogether new interpretation of making free with information has become apparent, one which was certainly not intended by Parliament.

The National Archives, Kew

The Sunday Telegraph of 27 February 2005 reports the National Archives has lost or mislaid 1,672 documents. No timescale for this occurence is given and the article is insufficently detailed to clarify whether stolen documents are included in the total. Instead Chris Hastings, media correspondent, suggests the documents have been misplaced by staff or borrowed by government departments.

We asked Benedict Crumplethorne to comment.

I have been aware for some time of the annoying arrangement whereby civil servants in government departments borrow medieval and more modern documents for research. Complaints have been received from members of the public inconvenienced by the absence of such items, many visitors having turned up from overseas or distant parts of the country only to be told the file or charter is on loan to a government department.

I feel it is highly perverse that such an important repository should divest itself of documents for any purpose and then fail to recover them. It hardly lends itself to the concept of access, so much in vogue currently.

The article quite upset Garth Bland, County Archivist of Loamshire, whose own office was recently struck by the theft of records (Ebay Scam Hits Record Office). Garth told us we receive periodic inspections by staff of the National Archives who take particular concern to check security arrangements, partly because we hold Public Records and partly because TNA exercises a friendly oversight over record offices in general in their capacity as leader of the archives profession. I will query their own security arrangements next time their inspecting officers visit.

It particularly irks me that we never read about this sort of thing in the Keeper's reports!

Naturally SQA will maintain a watching brief.


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