Friday, January 30, 2015

Oregon archives/information mess

What happened? Several weeks ago 22,000 archival documents were given in electronic form to a professor from the University of Oregon, Prof. Bill Harbaugh. The documents did not go through a review process complying with state and federal privacy laws before they were released. The release of documents was initially referred to as "unlawful". The documents included "confidential information about faculty, staff and students" but no financial, medical or social security info. Documents included correspondence to/from the last four UO presidents.

What is the fallout? The professor returned the information. He says the problem isn't that the info was released, but that the university is obsessive about secrecy and certain attachments were not included with the information he requested. He is concerned that sufficient university presidential papers are not being maintained in the archives. Two archivists are on paid administrative leave. An internal investigation is underway to determine how and why confidential records were disclosed and prevent it happening in the future. 

In Oregon law requires public university to release information upon request but the public records law exempts some information to protect personal privacy.

This is a summary from several articles including:
UO President addresses leaked documents...1/28/15 in DailyEmerald at http://dailyemrald.com
OregonLive at http://blog.oregonlive.com:
University of Oregon unlawfully releases 22,000 pages...1/23/15
UO professor Bill Harbaugh returns 22,000 pages...1/29/15

There is no information as to how the archivists were trained to handle UO records requests like this, or why review processes did not occur as they should have. If they were not properly trained, people higher than they are should be on administrative leave as well and training and procedures handling records requests and private information should be reviewed and improved. \

There is also no mention of how the information was requested. Did someone tell them or send an email and upon whose authority?

Overall this case may cause a review of process, and, probably, a resistance to give records to the archives. Other universities are going to be afraid this will happen at their university. UO had an active records management program in place at the time. Those universities without an active records management program will now wonder about the cons of having one. This also should make all archivists working not just in records management but in any capacity where you handle information requests to make sure they understand what their procedures, policies, laws, and processes are for information requests involving private information.

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