Monday, 5 October 2009

iPres 2009 Keynote: David Kirsch

Keynote from David Kirsch: Public Interest in Private Digital Records. The Corporation an extremely powerful institution in society; we don’t take enough advantage of it. Would it be enough to save personal communications? He doesn’t think it’s enough… Public interest: 17th century jurist Matthew Hale “When private property is affected with a public interest, it ceases to be juris privati only”. Harvard longest continuously incorporated institutions in US! Corporations now legal persons. Now people want to be corporations! Where is this going?

Aha! There may be a public interest in their private records, but problem in accessing without infringing private rights. Should corporations have a right to be forgotten (apparently part of EU charter of human rights)? Challenge: the digital record of business is at risk. The major legal power of legal discovery means corporations don’t want to create records (something similar in UK when freedom of Information came in: shredders were furiously active). IT Knowledge Management makes corporate records more valuable, but lawyers want them to be destroyed ASAP.

Could corporations see their own self-interest in preserving their records? Can collective action help? Eg Chemical Industry Institute for Toxicology set up to research health impacts of formaldehyde… Possible National Venture Archive?

Possible “stroke of a pen” approach: create a public interest in the private records. Make a national register of Historical Documents. Escrow institutions, make the records “beyond discovery”? Technical redaction or selective invalidation? US taxpayers now own big companies like GM; for $50B, shouldn’t we at least get the records?

3rd possible mechanism: abandoned interest: failed companies lose power to dispose of records? Would need to revise the social contract of corporations. Working with a Silicon Valley venture capital liquidator. Trying to turn a records warehouse to an archive: which boxes do they want? (Looks like they should have hired an archivist!)

Otherwise try elsewhere, eg Canada, Finnland etc. Finally, exploit the general statutes for incorporation, eg use of term NewCo; we need a NewCo for preservation.

Do Something, but Do No Harm…


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