restricted access The Question of Access: The Right to Social Memory versus the Right to Social Oblivion
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In most modern societies public administrations process and handle huge amounts of private and personal data concerning individual citizens, thus producing great numbers of case ales containing often highly sensitive information about identiaable individual persons. It is my contention that some of this information is a vital part of the social memory of modern societies. When evaluating modern public political and administrative records, the focus is often on records containing information about political decision making and the political and administrative deliberations behind new legislative initiatives . However, the vast numbers of personal case ales contain—among other things—information about how public laws and regulations and public institutions affect individual citizens in various aspects of their lives. A lot of the data contained in such ales are of a trivial, repetitive , and routine character. But it is also in these kinds of public administrative ales—and often only here—that we and information on the interaction of public administration and the individual citizen. These ales are of value both for the individuals and for society as such. For the individual they may contain information of vital importance for the self-knowledge and self-concept of that individual . This information is also of vital importance in the formation of the self-concept of that society, particularly to the extent that these ales contain information about the interaction between society as represented by public authorities and individual citizens. Preservation of these kinds of records is threatened both by tendencies in the public debate and by practical necessities, policy, and habits of modern archival administration . The ever-more-widespread use of modern technology in public administration makes it possible both to preserve and handle a larger amount of this kind of information and to utilize the information in new and more effective ways. This might well tend to strengthen the public debate on principles concerning the creation, retention, and accessibility of such information. When discussing questions relating to regulations concerning the retention or the disposition of ofacial documents containing personal or sensitive information about individual and identiaable persons, the points of view tend to differ widely according to the setting/framework of the discussion. In a political setting the stress will tend to be on questions relating to the possibilities of political control of the individual. Prevailing opinions in most democratic countries will tend to favor the disposition of such data as quickly as possible, perhaps even to prohibit the creating of such data where possible. If the civil rights of individual citizens are the focus of attention , the opinions might differ. If, for instance, an individual citizen wants to complain about and to appeal the decision of a local government concerning him or her, access to all available information is of vital importance. That, of course, favors retention of all such data. On the other hand, if the focus of attention is on the right to privacy , as such, opinions will tend to favor disposition from an ethically founded point of view. That is to say a view that is respectful to the right of the individual to preserve privacy. If we remove this discussion from the public or political sphere and place it in the world of the archives, things 114 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ The Question of Access The Right to Social Memory versus the Right to Social Oblivion Inge Bundsgaard ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ might once more look different. The ofacial documents will have acquired the status of archival records, and the questions concerning retention or disposition will tend to be addressed with arguments relating to the research value of the records in question. The users of the archives —the historians, the social scientists, the ethnologist , and so forth—usually tend to argue in favor of retention of practically all archival records. And quite rightly! Every time archival records are disposed of, information of some kind disappears. The users of archival records will furthermore be interested in the retention of precisely the kind of archival records that contain detailed information about individual persons. That goes for both the genealogist and the professional researcher who wants that kind of information as the basis for a broad statistical analysis or for narrowly conceived microstudies. The archivist, on the other hand, will tend to have a more differentiated view. As long as we are talking about traditional paper records, the archivist will be aware of the necessity of disposition of the greater part of those records that are being produced in any modern administration . Personal ales tend to be bulky. To...


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