Preserving the History of Local Governments

California’s Secretary of State is preparing guidelines for cities and counties to use if they want to create public records that will last indefinitely.

The key is “trustworthiness” which means that a few years down the road no one will be able to go in and change the electronic document, adding fake information or deleting what was there originally.

As Voice of OC reported, millions of paper records currently are destroyed by cities and counties.

When the laws allowing destruction were passed in the 1990s, the issue was lack of space to store all those boxes of paper, but today the driving force behind the destruction of records is protecting agencies in case of a law suit

So, how do you make a digital government document trustworthy?

Betsy Fanning, director of standards and member services for AIIM, the Association for Information and Image Management, offers suggestions adopted by private industry.

The document, she said, should be created in a PDF/Archive format or something similar. PDF files are commonly used now to email bulky documents and can be created so that no one can change their contents.

Files designed for longterm retention also can’t be opened with a password that would enable anyone to make changes and they can’t include external links, which would make them vulnerable to viruses.

Notes, memos, letters, expense reports, travel records and more could be converted to permanent files and retained as a history of how local governments work.

The Secretary of State’s proposed technical guidelines wouldn’t require cities and counties to keep records any longer than they do now. But if local governments decide they want to retain documents, the guidelines would tell them how to do it.

The guidelines should be ready for final review sometime in the fall and could go into effect next year.