27 September 2023

Worldwide call for pandemic documents

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Victoria’s Information Commissioner, Sven Bluemmel has joined Information Access Commissioners from Australia and internationally in a push to call on Governments to preserve and allow access to information and documents dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marking Information Awareness Month, the Commissioners, including Mr Bluemmel, co-signed a statement released by the International Conference of Information Commissioners to recognise and promote sound information management practices.

“The duty to document does not cease in a crisis,” the Commissioners said.

“It becomes more essential.”

The combined statement calls for three actions: All decisions must be documented; Records and data must be secured and preserved in all sectors; and Security, preservation and access to digital content must be facilitated during the shutdown.

The Commissioners said the statement built on the UNESCO communique Turning the Threat of COVID-19 into an Opportunity for Greater Support to Documentary Heritage.

Sound records management is more important than ever with Governments taking unprecedented steps to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Commissioners said.

“It is essential that the basis of those decisions, the decisions themselves and the senior decision-makers involved are thoroughly documented in order for Governments to remain accountable both during and after the emergency and for future generations to be able to learn from our actions.

“Urgent steps should be taken to address record keeping in ephemeral technologies that have to be deployed rapidly.”

The Commissioners said the duty to document was not only a matter for Government but also commercial, research and educational institutions.

“The impacts of the pandemic will be far reaching, and all organisations need to be cognisant of the importance of proper data and records management,” they said.

“Records and record keepers deal with increasingly complex digital materials such as algorithms and rough or raw data.

“The duty to document this information does not cease in a crisis, it becomes more essential than ever.”

The statement was co-signed by Mr Bluemmel as well as the Australian Information Commissioner, Angelene Falk; New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier; ACT’s Ombudsman, Michael Manthorpe; NSW Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Tydd; Queensland’s Information Commissioner, Rachael Rangihaeata; Western Australian Information Commissioner, Catherine Fletcher; Tasmanian Ombudsman, Richard Connock; Northern Territory Information Commissioner, Peter Shoyer; and South Australia’s Ombudsman, Wayne Lines.

The 2-page signed international statement can be accessed at this PS News link.

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