Week 9 Blog: “Georgia Election Server Wiped After Suit Filed”: Record Retention Policies and Penalties of Law

According to a recent ABCnews article, a crucial sever at the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University was wiped out several days after a lawsuit against Georgia election officals was filed; Kennesaw State’s Media Center attributed the server wipe to “standard operating procedure.”[1] Was this a clear and provable violation of the law? One provision of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA act) requires voting systems to be auditable and produce a paper record available as an official record (Pub.L. 107–252 SEC.301 a. 2.).[2] Records on this system should have a hard copy backup. According to the article, the plantiffs, who are mostly Georgia voters, want to have a new voting system. The current system includes “27,000 AccuVote touchscreen voting machines, hackable devices that don’t use paper ballots or keep hardcopy proof of voter intent.”[3] How were these machines allowed to operate in seeming violation of the HAVA act of 2002? What did records managers have to say about this issue? The most important question may be, what was the record retention policy of the center and was the center legally notified to halt their standard procedure in order to protect the information on this server? Time will tell how this issue will play out, however, the implications of case like this are serious. We must ensure that good record management and archival practices are followed, from the creation of records to their preservation. We cannot rely on technology or honesty. Technology can fail and technology will fail—and technology can be made to fail.

 

[1] Bajak, Frank. “APNewsBreak: Georgia election server wiped after suit filed.” ABCNews. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/apnewsbreak-georgia-election-server-wiped-suit-filed-50729761.

[2] Government Publishing Office. “Help America Vote Act of 2002.” https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-107publ252/html/PLAW-107publ252.htm.

[3] Bajak, Frank. “APNewsBreak: Georgia election server wiped after suit filed.” ABCNews. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/apnewsbreak-georgia-election-server-wiped-suit-filed-50729761.

Week 8 Blog: Chaos and Disaster Planning

 

 

Chaos (Noun): “the inherent unpredictability in the behavior of a complex natural system”[1]

 

Chaos is inherent in all we do. Chaos theory in mathematics, Clauswitzian friction in war, and the field of Quantum Chaos in physics are testaments to the effects of unaccountable variables on even the most solid foundations of human understanding. In the archival world, chaos is countered thorough disaster planning. Chaos–such as a fire in a section of the archives, a pest infestation, or instance of flooding—that is planned for in contingency scenarios and rehearsed, ceases to be chaos. Archives that plan for and rehearse responses to the most common disasters that befall archives avoid unnecessary calamity. An important case study for archival disaster planning has been hurricane Katrina. The experience has given several lessons in avoidable chaos according to NYU graduate Kara Van Malssen.[2] These lessons include effective disaster planning, external recovery services, and risk of cultural collapse as a result of a disaster. After the hurricane, standard lines of communication that had been incorporated into disaster plans within ravaged areas ceased to be operational, “Don’t neglect to establish every possible line of communication.” Not only were these lines of communication severed, but archives lacked the resources for recovery and effective networks to accomplish timely recovery efforts, “Always be sure that your library, archive, or department within a larger organization has discussed emergency preparedness plans with the administration.” Finally, the largest disaster to the archives effected by Katrina may be the loss of the community which surrounded them, “The reductions in staff size and funding for both recovery and day-to-day operations are possibly even larger a threat to many institutions and collections than the hurricane itself.”[3] However, you will never avoid chaos. It is the sprinkler system with a 99% successful operation rate that fails at the time it’s needed; the most unlikely scenario can occur for the simple reason that even the statistically best-prepared institution is at the mercy of probability. All an institution can do is understand the risks. Studying the disasters that befall similar institutions or raw data on the likelihood of a disaster on institutions could be one way to accomplish this. Archivists who study past calamities, who weigh the probability of various disaster, and plan with cost and risk aversion in mind will be more likely to avoid avoidable chaos. But chaos will always occur, prepare for the worst and hope for the best .

 

 

 

 

[1] Merriam-Webster. “Definition of Chaos.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chaos.

[2] Van Malssen, Kara. “Disaster Planning and Recovery: Post-Katrina Lessons for Mixed Media Collections.” http://www.nyu.edu/tisch/preservation/research/disaster/06ala-talks/talk_vanmalssen.shtml.

[3] Ibid.

 

Week 7– Voices Lost: the 1973 Fire at the National Personnel Records Center and its Implications on Service Records

 

 

One night when I was young, my father brought home a stack of books entitled Soldiers of the Great War. We sat down at the kitchen table while he reverently opened one volume of the fragile book set to a dog-eared page. Tracing his finger across the yellowed paper, he stopped on an image fainted from years of touching. The caption read “Pvt. Luigi Caporusso, Trenton [New Jersey]” under a subsection “Died of Wounds”.

My great-grandmother never knew her uncle, but the unspoken loss had led her to occasionally open the book for my father.  She repeated a ritual her father had started. His trembling finger had been the first to touch the face of his dead son as my young great-grandmother looked on. The somber ritual had lost its strong connection over time, but it made its way down to my father and I. The faded photo we viewed offered nothing but a forgotten tragedy; the story of a foreign-born soldier who died far from home and whose abrupt death echoed over generations.

I felt compelled to understand who Luigi was and years later, I would request his service record from the National Personnel Center in St. Louis. The response I  received was a letter stating that nearly 80% of personnel records had been destroyed in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center, including that of my relative. I was crushed; I had followed his trail using the limited information I could gather from the New Jersey State Archives and from reading about the 78th Lightning Division in World War One. What medals had my relative earned? What had happened when ,24 days before the war ended, Luigi had been wounded? Where did he finally die and how?

To remedy issues caused by this fire, the NPRC reconstructs these official files using alternative sources such as medical records, pay records, and VA claims. But I wonder how much was really lost. How many veterans have been affected when it comes to claiming their service or how many relatives may never know the stories of heroism that had been within the Official Military Personnel files of 75-80% of Army and Airforce personnel serving between 1912 to 1964. One can only hope the NPRC has learned and disaster planned to avoid a future calamity and also, that the sacrifices of these service members was documented elsewhere.

As for the story of Luigi Caporusso, my efforts continue. I’ve learned a great deal about my ancestor and in so doing, began to understand some family roots. But ultimately, I am left with more questions than answers. Sometimes, I find myself opening the book to a brittle page folded long ago. Continuing a ritual of loss that started nearly 100 years ago.

Week 6 Blog: The Ethical Archivist

After reading the ACRL Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians and the SAA Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics, it became apparent that the codes and ethics were most-likely a prescriptive measure. My initial impression was reaffirmed after reading The Ethics of Collecting. The archival world was and is prone to all the same human qualities that adversely affect ethics of the business world: actions motivated by personal gain, money, competition rather than ethics and institutional integrity.

The Ethics of Collecting, which appears to be written prior to a unified emphasis on archival professionalism, identifies problems within the profession that were ignored prior. Have any of these ethical issues within the archival field declined? And more importantly, is there any way to empirically assess (in any manner) whether the professional codes promoted by various associations have worked to curb unethical behavior?

Regardless, professionalism requires uniformity and a clear code of ethics. One can easy hypothesize that codes of ethics have indeed improved the professionalism within the archival field. Archival associations can not only attest to the professional character of their members, but they can also police the individuals who make up their organization. The fact that professional organizations exist and gain credibility in the field by promoting professional behaviors means that institutions will prefer members over non-members. An unethical archivist who loses their membership will be unattractive candidate for any position in a market dominated by associated professionals. In this way, archivists can exert control over their profession. You cannot stop many of the unethical practices that occur in archives, but you can teach and promote ethical behavior and punish poor behavior organizationally when it becomes apparent. What is most difficult is when the archivist is incentivized to act unethically by their institution. Some examples may include splitting groups of material at the cost of the researchers, acquisition practices which hurt or demean other archives, and collecting priorities pushed by institutions which do not benefit archive users (ex. memorabilia collecting over the collecting of research materials).  In these situations, it is ultimately up to the archivist to act ethically. One can only hope their training and connection to the larger professional community leads them to act for the common good.

 

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