Supreme Court halts electronic records case : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Court halts electronic records case

BY William Matthews


The legal battle to stop federal agencies from deleting electronic records is over, and the agencies have won. But the lawyer who led the effort to save digital documents said he will renew his fight on a different front.

The Supreme Count Monday declined to hear the case of Public Citizen v. Carlin, sinking the public interest organizations hopes that it might force agencies to save electronic documents, including e-mail messages, in an easy-to-search, easy-to-access electronic form.

Michael Tankersley, a lawyer for Public Citizen, said he plans to begin petitioning agencies and taking other steps to persuade them to preserve electronic records.

John Carlin, national archivist, said the Supreme Courts decision should end three years of legal skirmishing regarding the fate of electronic records. He said the National Archives and Records Administration he heads now can "continue in an orderly way to develop practical methods for managing and preserving records in the Electronic Era."

The Supreme Courts decision leaves intact a NARA policy that lets agencies delete electronic records if paper copies have been made for permanent storage. The Supreme Court did not say why it declined to hear the case.

In 1997, Public Citizen won a federal court ruling that the original electronic versions of records must be saved if the records have historic value. The government appealed the ruling in 1998, and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned it. Public Citizen then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Tankersley and others contend that the electronic version of records contain information that is often not preserved when the records are printed on paper. Such information may indicate who reviewed a memo or who participated in a policy decision. Electronic records are also much easier than paper ones to search, and they can be accessed by researchers online.

Government lawyers argued that many federal agencies did not have the electronic recordkeeping systems capable of properly saving electronic records.

During the years of litigation, however, electronic record storage capabilities improved, and NARA policies about preserving electronic records evolved. Tankersley took some credit for raising awareness of electronic storage problems.

-- Carl Jenkins (, March 08, 2000


Another point the general public will not understand is that not only is information manipulated in translation to paper but it will cost more-perhaps prohibitively-to obtain paper copies of paper copies. The whole process of requests, costs, improperly copied (or not copied) documents can make freedom of information a joke. ALSO, computers have glitches. One nice facet of IT is back up. People would be amazed at the morphing of information: what you see at one point is not necessarily what has been or is there at the time information is printed-and if e-archives are destroyed.....In fact, our admin is so paranoid about back up they won't e-mail to staff anymore. Those communications are verified by e-stamp for date and time. Hard to prove when someone hands you a piece of paper, or if they did. Your tax dollars-and mine-at work.

-- another government hack (, March 09, 2000.

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