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ARCHIVES Home

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ARCHIVES  April 2006, Week 4

ARCHIVES April 2006, Week 4

Subject:

Basis for restriction [was Users v. Records was NARA]

From:

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Reply-To:

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Date:

Fri, 28 Apr 2006 13:19:28 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (111 lines)

You're a brave soul, asking for more clarification from  me!  I've 
yapped an awful lot already (can't you tell I've been feeding photos 
into a scanner, LOL, rather than running up to the Library, sitting  in 
 meetings, etc. My weeks at work do vary a lot.   ;-)

There are a number of reasons to restrict Federal records, beyond 
national security classification under E.O. 12958, as amended.
Copy available at

Here are the restriction codes we applied at the Nixon Project:

Source
http://nixon.archives.gov/laws/restrictions.html
Restriction Codes
The following eight restriction classifications are criteria under 
which the National Archives will withdraw material from public 
availability.

A   –    Release would violate a Federal statute or agency policy


B   –    National security classified information


C   –    Pending or approved claim that release would violate an 
individual's rights


D   –    Release would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of 
privacy or a libel of a living person


E   –    Release would disclose trade secrets or confidential 
commercial or financial information


F   –    Release would disclose investigatory information compiled for 
law enforcement purposes


G   –    Withdrawn and returned private and personal material


H   –    Withdrawn non-historical material
[END EXTRACT FROM NARA website]

Two of those categoraies, G and H, are unusual.  They apply because 
Nixon's White House records were seized in place.  It would be like the 
government sealing and seizing your records when you left  your job.  
You would hope that they would give back to you any medical and purely 
personal family stuff that had gotten  mixed in among your job related 
records.  This problem does not occur with most government records, 
which come in to NARA through a well ordered process of records 
scheduling and records management.

An aside on the issue of "personal returnable" information in the Nixon 
tapes and documents.  The tricky part for us at the Nixon Project came 
 from the efforts by Nixon and his lawyers to expand what could be 
returned to him as personal.  The most publicly known instance occurred 
when Nixon blocked the release of some 42,000 documents in the White 
House Special Files in 1987.  (NARA has been curiously silent about 
later disagreements with Nixon or  his estate.)  He claimed most of the 
documents were personal or privileged.  Not so.  Of the items Nixon’s 
agents sought to remove from government custody for return to Nixon in 
1987, the National Archives retained 33,199 documents and returned to 
the Nixon estate 8,992 documents.  Of the retained documents, NARA 
opened to the public 28,035 documents.   These included comments about 
Watergate and the Vietnam War -- governmental matters, not related to 
Nixon's personal life.  (I tned to think his lawyers in some cases 
deliberately tried to conflate confidentiallity with personal privacy.)

But look at the other reasons for restriction on the list above.  There 
actually are good statutory reasons for restricting some non-national 
security information.

For example, what if you submitted a Federal form to the government and 
it had your Social Security Number on it?  If it somehow was found in a 
permanent record that was transferred to NARA, you would during your 
lifetime expect protection against unwarranted disclosure, identify 
theft, etc.  Hence the need for archivists to screen Federal records 
carefully before making them available to the public.

What if you wrote to a President or to a Federal agency and mentioned 
private matters, such as family problems, medical issues, job problems, 
etc.?  If your letter makes it to a Presidential Library or to NARA's 
College Park facility, you have the right to have some of that shielded 
 from public view, also.  And of course companies have the right to have 
certain commercial information protected from disclosure.   And some 
law enforcement information has to be protected.  And grand jury 
information is secret, etc.

All in all, much of what NARA holds about governmental actions warrants 
disclosure to historians and genealogists, but archivists do need to 
protect certain categories of information, at least for a period of 
time.  Again, the process must be handled with great care and 
integrity, least it become suspect.

Maarja

A posting from the Archives & Archivists LISTSERV List sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, www.archivists.org.
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