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Online Records Compliance

Are your records being “lost in translation”?

“Governments around the world are taking a leap into the cloud,” noted Government Computer News (GCN) in an article which focused on the Department of Defense, and its unique needs in moving to cloud solutions.  Among them were security concerns, total cost of ownership, and functionality — but the issue of records compliance jumped out as a topic that all agencies should be carefully considering.  These challenges remain as more agencies continue to create digital records.  It’s a topic that simply cannot be ignored.

Online public records — keep ‘em!

As noted in the post, it’s not just the DOD that is moving more communications and services online — it’s a fast-growing percentage of cities, counties, and states across the country.  These agencies MUST recognize the potential record value of the content they publish on their web pages and social media.  Several requirements (like those in the Federal Records Act of 1950 and the E-Government Act of 2002) demand the preservation of federal public records.  State and local governments have their own varying retention laws, but one thing is becoming clear — digital records should be preserved just as meticulously as traditional records.

Cases of e-discovery and FOIA requests are the main concerns.  “[There’s a] public expectation that all web content is both permanently valuable and accessible,” noted NARA in a bulletin containing guidance on how to manage online records.  Citizens suppose that you are keeping track of info and conversations that you’ve published online in the past — including social media.  Producing digital records for legal counsel or FOIA can become very expensive if you don’t have a good retention system in place.

Lost in translation

As the DOD searches for retention solutions, said GCN’s article, the Department should recognize that not all “cloud offerings” are created equal.  Some archiving and data retention policies do not ensure perfect copies of captured files, often omitting key features like watermarks. While not as critical in some civilian applications, this type of retention just isn’t suitable for government agencies. Records should never be lost in translation, said GCN — “important documents must remain consistent as they move in and out of the cloud.”

How to archive for compliance

“Data integrity” is the phrase used to indicate a perfect, unchanged archive of a web page, file, or document.  Web archiving, which involves the capturing of online content in its original format, is accomplished in the cloud without dependency on specific technologies or databases.  That’s why archiving trumps screen shots, server back-up, “CMS revision control” and other less powerful means of preserving digital content.

But to ensure data integrity, your agency must employ an archiving solution that can provide a “digital timestamp” and “digital signature”.  Those are the key words that tell you the archives will meet legal requirements for public records AND stand as admissible evidence in court.

A good archive should ensure that your web pages (even those with complex content like video or interactive features) can always be viewed in their original form and deliver the same user experience, meeting regulatory requirements for authentic copies. Archiving guarantees your agency’s ability to exactly reproduce past online content, and to locate specific files using search technologies for FOIA requests or e-discovery cases.  In the end, having a solid archiving plan will pay for itself — saving your agency the high costs of being caught unprepared, without defensible records of your online activity.

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