Posts Tagged ‘ records management ’

Too Much Information, part 2: Recontextualization

The second article I want to discuss is “Data as a natural resource” by Matthew Aslett, and deals principally with the idea of transforming data—records decontextualized—into products (records recontextualized as commodities).  Aslett introduces the concept of the “data factory”, a place where data is “manufactured”.  He also highlights this in the context of “Big Data”—the current trend of accomodating larger and larger collections of information.  The problem is, “Big Data” are useless unless you can process them, analyze them, contextualize them.  Aslett suggests that the next big trend will be “Big Data Analytics”, which will focus on harnessing data sources and transforming them into products.  Assigning meaning to the raw, free-floating information, as it were.

One of the things I like about Aslett’s article is his analogy between data resources and energy resources, comparing the “data factory” with the oil industry.  Data is the new oil; useable data can be very valuable, as eBay and Facebook (Aslett’s two main examples) demonstrate.  What’s interesting about both eBay and Facebook, and why Aslett draws attention to them in particular, is that they don’t in themselves produce the data; they harness pre-existing data streams (the data “pipeline”), building on transactions that already take place, automate these transactions for their users, and parse their user data into saleable products.  In the case of Facebook, this comes in the form of ad revenue from targetted marketing, based on the most comprehensive demographic information available online (a user base of 500+ million); for eBay, it is the combination of transactional and behavioural data that identifies its top sellers and leads to increased revenue for them.  If Facebook or eBay didn’t exist, as Aslett points out, people would still communicate, share photos, buy and sell products.  They have just automated the process, and acquired the transaction records that are associated with such interactions in the process.

This makes me wonder about the ownership implications, once again, and about the Facebook terms of use I trotted out in a previous blog entry.  Is it fair for Facebook to profit off your personal information in this way?  To control your data?  Isn’t it a little worrisome that eBay and Amazon track what I buy online well enough to make quite accurate recommendations?  In terms of IAPP discussed in the last class and of David Flaherty’s list of individual rights, it is troubling to consider that, if the countless disparate traces of me online were somehow pulled together and processed, someone could construct a reasonable facsimile of me, my personality, my identity.  And isn’t this what Aslett is really talking about when he uses the word “analytics”?

Aslett, M. (2010, November 18).  Data as a natural energy source.  Too much information. Retrieved on November 26, 2010 from

Too Much Information, Part 1: e-Disclosure

Today I’m going to write about a RIM blog I have discovered thanks to the ARMA website links, “Too Much Information” by The 451 Group.  In particular, I want to discuss two articles from different authors, on quite different topics.  Given the word length limit on entries for the journal assignment, I’ll be splitting my writing up into two seperate entries.

The first article, by Nick Patience, is a review of the topics discussed at the 6th Annual e-Disclosure Forum in London, dealing primarily with UK law.  Patience identifies key themes that came up during the forum.  The first of these is “Practice Direction 31B”, which is an amendment to the rules of civil procedure in the disclosure of electronic documents.  Of the changes, Patience identifies the addition of a 23-question questionnaire to be used in cases that involve a large number of documents, and emphasizes how this would be useful both in getting parties organized for proceedings and as a pre-emptive method for organizations to prepare records in the event of future litigation.  In Canada we have some standard guidance in the form of the Sedona Canada Principles, the Sedona Working Group, and provincial task forces working on refining e-Disclosure practices.  I suspect there are discrepancies in practices between provinces, simply due to the nature of the Canadian legal system, which might make it difficult to apply a detailed questionnaire as common resource (conjecture on my part, since I’m certainly not an expert in law), but I certainly agree with Patience about the potential benefits of such a resource.  In reviewing the case law digests, it is clear that one of the great challenges of e-Disclosure is limiting the scope on what constitutes evidence, which is, I believe, at the court’s discretion.  Examples that I’ve found are:

Dulong v. Consumers Packaging Inc., [2000] O.J. No. 161 January 21, 2000 OSCJ Commercial List Master Ferron.. The court held that a broad request from a plaintiff that the corporate defendant search its entire computer systems for e-mail relating to matters in issue in the litigation was properly refused on the grounds that such an undertaking would, “having regard to the extent of the defendant’s business operations, be such a massive undertaking as to be oppressive”. (para 21).

Optimight Communications Inc. v. Innovance Inc., 2002 CanLII 41417 (ON C.A.), Parallel citations: (2002), 18 C.P.R. (4th) 362; (2002), 155 O.A.C. 202, 2002-02-19 Docket: C37211. Moldaver, Sharpe and Simmons JJ.A. The appellants appeal a Letter of Request issued in a California court seeking the assistance of Ontario courts in enforcing an order for production of 34 categories of documents by Innovance, Inc. Appellate Court limited the scope of production and discovery. Schedule A details the electronic sources and search terms.

Sourian v. Sporting Exchange Ltd., 2005 CanLII 4938 (ON S.C.) 2005-03-02 Docket: 04-CV-268681CM 3. Master Calum U.C. MacLeod. Production of information from an electronic database. An electronic database falls within the definition of “document” in our (Ontario) rules. The challenge in dealing with a database, however, is that a typical database would contain a great deal of information that is not relevant to the litigation.  Unless the entire database is to be produced electronically together with any necessary software to allow the other party to examine its contents, what is produced is not the database but a subset of the data organized in readable form.  This is accomplished by querying the database and asking the report writing software to generate a list of all data in certain fields having particular characteristics.  Unlike other documents, unless such a report is generated in the usual course of business, the new document, the requested report (whether on paper or on CD ROM) would have to be created or generated. Ordering a report to be custom written and then generated is somewhat different than ordering production of an existing document.  I have no doubt that the court may make such an order because it is the only way to extract the subset of relevant information from the database in useable form. On the other hand such an order is significantly more intrusive than ordinary document production. A party must produce relevant documents but it is not normally required to create documents.  Accordingly such an order is discretionary and the court should have regard for how onerous the request may when balanced against its supposed relevance and probative value. (Italics P.D.)

[These only represent the first three cases I found in the LexUM Canadian E-Discovery Case Law Digests (Common Law) online, under “Scope of production and discovery”.]

What this news about UK policy makes me wonder, though, is precisely why we haven’t implemented a better national standard.  The Sedona Principles are wonderful for what they are—recommendations from a think tank drawing on the experience of lawyers, law-makers, technology and information professionals—but in order for it to really mean anything, it has to be enacted in policy.  Naturally, that kind of legislation doesn’t happen overnight.

Another theme Patience identifies is the growing trend of cloud computing, and the problems therein.  This sort comes back to my frequent rants about web records; the conference participants agreed that service level agreements (SLAs—precisely the kind of agreements I noted in my last entry) by cloud service providers did not provide sufficient guarantee as to the control and security of a user’s records (in this case, the user being an organization).  Patience describes this quality of the SLA as lacking the “necessary granularity”—you need to know that you can search for, find, and retrieve your data in a form that you can use.  As Patience says, not having that guarantee is a “dealbreaker”.  This seems like a very important counterpoint to the ever-growing buzz about cloud computing, and re-enforces the need for organizations to exercise caution before making a decision about how they want to manage their data.



ARMA International

E-Discovery Canada

Patience, N.  (2010, November 16). e-Disclosure – cooperation, questionnaires and cloud. Too Much Information. Retrieved on November 26, 2010 from

Record-Keeping Processes for Child Care Program Inspectors

The Alberta Auditor General’s October report revealed that Alberta Children’s Services’ record-keeping was inconsistent and made it impossible to determine if child care programs were meeting provincial standards (Kleiss, 2010).  The report identifies that the problem occurs with the documentation (or lack thereof) of “low-risk” breaches of existing standards, which are often handled with a “verbal warning”, or recorded inconsistently by inspectors.  The Auditor General quite correctly notes that this poses a safety risk to the children in these programs (2010, 33-34).

My first question is why there is no consistency already in how inspectors are reporting breaches.  One would hope that such an important role in our society, the people responsible for holding accountable the services that provide our child care, would function like a well-oiled machine.  Is it a lack of training, i.e. human error?  Is it a poorly designed reporting system, i.e. system error?  How does this happen?

There are clearly existing procedural regulations in place for inspectors.  The Auditor’s report acknowledges the following about the inspection activity:

Authorities’ licensing officers inspect these programs at least twice a year and inspect in response to complaints and program reported critical incidences such as child injury. If a program is not complying with regulatory requirements, through delegation from the Statutory Director for Child Care, a licensing officer may:

  • issue a verbal warning to correct non-compliance
  • issue an order to remedy non-compliance
  • impose conditions on a license
  • vary a provision of a license
  • suspend a license and issue a probationary license
  • cancel a license

Enforcement action will vary depending on the severity of the non-compliance. Low risk non-compliance may warrant more serious enforcement action if frequently repeated or identified as part of a pattern of ignoring requirements. (35)

It goes on to describe how the lack of records tracking verbal warnings, as well as inconsistency in acquiring and providing evidence of non-compliance when issuing an order to remedy problematized the task of following-up in cases when further action would be required.  It is not clear if this type of documentation has always been inconsistent, but the Auditor’s report made three recommendations:

1. Review and improve documentation and training to ensure all program requirements are being met.

2. Improve the consistency of monitoring by correcting systems that ensure compliance with processes.

3. Improve follow-up processes by ensuring that all verbal warnings are adequately documented and resolved.

While the report seems to me the perfect example of why good records management is critical, it made me wonder how the office of the Auditor General conducted its audit, and how it came to draw the conclusions it did.  According to the report:

Our audit procedures included reviewing relevant legislation, standards, policies and procedures, interviewing senior staff at the Department and five Authorities, shadowing licensing officers as they inspected programs, reviewing inspection reports, and examining the Department’s Child Care Information System (CCIS). (33)

The mention of CCIS, an ERMS, made me wonder precisely what sort of information was recorded in it.  After all, CCIS must be counted among the “systems” and “processes” identified in the recommendations.  The report (which, if you have not realized by now, is remarkably thorough) describes CCIS as follows, in the context of recommendation 1:

Authorities record enforcement actions in CCIS, link it to the corresponding regulation, and do some analysis of that data. However, more detailed trend analysis of this data may reveal the location, timing, and types of non-compliance, as well as help in planning future monitoring or training actions. For example, in our sample, we identified a pattern across Alberta of non-compliance with a requirement for maintaining portable emergency records. This could indicate a need for training or stricter enforcement action in this area. (36)

The report also identifies, in the context of recommendation 3, that while “Orders to Remedy” were consistently entered in CCIS, “verbal warnings” were not, and there was no way to tell if any remedial action was taken in cases where verbal warnings were given.

Other “records” in this story worth noting:

  • The legislation, provincial standards and statuatory requirements that govern child care in Alberta
  • The Auditor General’s Report itself (and what it says about the governmental review process in our province)

(apologies for the unoriginal title)



Auditor General Alberta. (2010, October). Report of the Auditor General of Alberta—October 2010.  Retrieved on November 15, 2010 from

Kleiss, K.  (2010, October 28).  Better Paperwork Expected of Daycare Inspectors. Retrieved on November 15, 2010 from

A Matter of Security

The big story over the weekend was about John Tyner, a software engineer who refused the TSA body scan and pat-down at the San Diego airport, and was subsequently removed from the airport and fined $10,000 for being uncooperative.  What makes this a big story is the fact that Tyner recorded the entire incident on his cell phone and then posted it on YouTube; he also wrote a full account on a blog using the moniker “johnnyedge”[1].  The video and blog have gone viral in the 48 hours since the incident took place, the YouTube video receiving over 200,000 hits.

There is quite a lot going on in this story that is worth examining.  First off, the relatively new practice of using the backscatter x-ray scanners and the TSA’s policy to administer a full pat-down to any passengers that opt-out of the scan have been under fire since they were first introduced.  Several stories have surfaced in the last year regarding the new technology, though none quite so markedly as Tyner’s.  One of the concerns raised was whether or not the body scan images were saved and stored [2]; the TSA confirmed that this was not the case in August, although it continues to be an issue raised in the argument against the body scans.  The issue does raise the question of precisely what does happen with the images?  How do the scanners work?  Is there no memory that stores images, even in the short term?  What if the scan does reveal someone in possession of something nefarious?  Doesn’t the scan represent evidence?  Surely there must be some system in place to preserve the image when this happens—if not, it does not seem particularly effective.  And if yes, the question is whether or not such a system violates the human rights of passengers.

I bet the TSA is rather unhappy right now, given the rising tidal wave of public discontent it is now facing.  I’ve written a lot about web content as records in this journal, so I won’t over-emphasize it now, but clearly the video/audio record Tyner preserved and uploaded to the Internet will impact the TSA’s operations—the extra time and labour spent dealing with uncooperative passengers, of navigating the negative press, and of correcting its policies and procedures will directly translate into dollar amounts.  As one article on Gizmodo suggests, there is a lot of money for manufacturers and lobbyists in the implementation and use of the new body scanners [3]; there’s a lot of money at stake if their adoption is stymied by bad press and public outrage.  And why?  Because one person recorded this activity and made the record public.

A movement in the US has grown around the rejection of the body scan technology and the TSA’s policies.  The website “I Made the TSA Feel my Resistance” has gone up, and is calling for “National Opt-Out Day” on November 24—the busiest day of the year for air travel.  It encourages passengers to refuse the body scan when they go through security. [4]

While I’ve always been sympathetic with the challenging (let’s face it—impossible) task of providing airport security, I think Tyner’s use of records and the web are useful in one very important way.  It forces us to ask: In what way does the body scan technology protect passengers?


[1] The original blog post and videos are available here:

An article by the Associated Press about the story’s popularity can be viewed here:

As well as a blog post on the CNN Newsroom website by one of the network’s correspondents can be viewed here:

[2] The issue of whether the images are stored or not was first raised last January, as represented in this article on

The TSA refuted these claims at the time on their blog:

The issue again made headlines in August with the following article on cnet:

Which the TSA again refuted:

[3] Loftus, J.  (2010, November 14).  TSA Full-Body Scanners: Protecting Passengers or Padding Pockets?  Gizmodo. Retrieved on November 15, 2010 from

This article also effectively summarizes the current controversy surrounding Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT).


Blogs as Records: Damage Done?

It’s no secret that I am a social media addict. My current drug of choice is Twitter, which I’ve discussed previously as part of the records management blog. As you may or may not know, I’m in the process of researching the records management issues surrounding the Edmonton City Centre airport plebiscite for a term paper, and when I checked Twitter this morning– as I’m wont to do– I was surprised by a new and interesting development in the form of links to new commentary.

A blogger claiming to be a reporter for the Seattle Times blogged about the decision by city council to move forward with the closure following the failed petition drive by Envision Edmonton. This blogger, apparently named “Darren Holmes”, put his own spin on the existing documents, facts and hearsay about the issue that portrays the council decision as some nefarious conspiracy, and casts Envision Edmonton as well as all Edmontonians as victims and dupes [1].

Some crack investigative reporting by local Journal reporter Todd Babiak revealed that this individual’s claims of authority were bogus, but not before the blog post went viral [2, 3]. This development begs the question: how do you classify blogs as records?

There are a number of issues initially that we need to consider—for the sake of brevity, I’ll limit myself to the most obvious one.  Outwardly “Darren” has no connection with the municipal government, Envision Edmonton, the airport authority or Yes For Edmonton.  Unlike the petition records, reports, proposals, letters and emails traded internally and between these organizations, Darren’s blog entry (and Todd Babiak’s column) exist outside the purview of these involved parties.  As an individual, Darren is merely exercising his right to free speech, a right we are proud to respect in our society; his is only one opinion amid a vast sea of others, and is thus, ostensibly, transient.  And yet it has indelibly made its mark within this discourse, and could be potentially damaging to other individuals and organizations (some of which I’ve just mentioned), particularly as local residents make their way to the ballot box.  So how do you classify the blog entry?  How do you control it?  Is it even worth qualifying as a record worthy of notice?  Considering the furor it created in my Twitter feed, and more generally in the community of players and swirling informational landscape surrounding the Edmonton City Centre controversy, it’s clear that it has forced itself into the debate for better or worse.

One way to deal with the blog entry as a record is to litigate.  According to Darren’s most recent update, Mayor Mendel’s representation has begun to do just that, by threatening legal action for slander [4].  Given Darren’s anonymity, the veracity of the claim is highly dubious, but such a move would certainly be an option for Mandel.  According to Babiak’s column, the Seattle Times is also concerned for being associated with Darren, particularly since no “Darren Holmes” has ever written for them.  The Times would be within their rights to sue Darren for lying about his connection to the newspaper.  Envision Edmonton should also be anxious about being associated with this person, as the episode continues to play out on the public stage, since for many readers it might seem that Darren represents their cause; since any truth to Darren’s credentials has been refuted, such an association could be very damaging for Envision.

Two more methods of dealing with the blog present themselves.  First, to respond to it in kind in a public format, as Babiak has done with his column in The Edmonton Journal.  The other is to try and ignore it; “don’t feed the trolls” is a common saying in web culture that refers to people that comment online for the sole purpose of being inflammatory.  Neither of these methods can make the blog entry go away, however, and even litigation can’t erase the impact it has already had on public perception.



[1] darrensbigscoop.  (2010, October 13.) Catching Up. Darren’s Big Scoop. Retrieved on October 13, 2010 from

[2] Babiak, T. (2010, October 13.) Blog from fake reporter doesn’t add to airport debate. The Edmonton Journal. Retrieved on October 13, 2010 from

[3]Babiak, T. (2010, October 12.) Anonymity, Fraud and No Fun. That Internet Thing. Retrieved on October 13, 2010 from

[4] darrensbigscoop. (2010, October 7.) Developer’s on Final Approach For Downtown Airport Land. Darren’s Big Scoop. Retrieved on October 13, 2010 from

The Bank of Canada’s unclaimed balances database

An interesting, new and local spin on an old story came up recently in The Edmonton Journal that is worth considering under the records management lens.  The Bank of Canada unclaimed balances database is where Canadian bank accounts go when people forget about them, and is no longer much of a mystery to most Canadians.  Two reporters were given the difficult task of regurgitating facts about the inactive balances story in an appealing way; they decided to create the Journal’s own database of inactive accounts belonging to Edmontonians, and to reveal a couple of the narratives such a local perspective exposed.

I find this repurposing of old records rather fascinating.  It’s something I’ve noticed in other stories, such as the creators of the lost shows database in my entry about the LOC discovery of British teleplays.  It underlines the importance of good record-keeping; for instance, if not for the digging of the two Journal reporters and their unique approach, it’s likely that the human interest stories (such as the tragedy of the Qureshis and the Japanese Village owner’s modest windfall) would never have been known.

Another level of this story intrigues me.  How do inactive balances get transferred to the Bank of Canada?  The records from the bank or financial institution of origin must be moved to the Bank of Canada.  Are they purchased by the Bank of Canada for the amount of the balance?  I have not found any information about this particular detail.  And how long are the balances held?  The passing of bill C-37 in 2007 sets that period of time at 30 years [1].  But what about records prior to 2007?  Consulting the Bank of Canada’s FAQ, I can’t seem to find this information, although it does suggest older records are being maintained.  But from a records management perspective it is an important factor to consider.  In this case the records literally represent a dollar amount—is there any accounting for economic variances, such as inflation?  Over a 100 years (based on the FAQ, the oldest account in the database is from 1900), how much would the amount grow?  From what I understand, these are permanent records—they never get destroyed, the money handed over to the federal government.  There is also, clearly, a system in place so that people can reclaim their inactive accounts, as well as a system for managing these records on an ongoing basis; what kind of resources does that require?  How many balances get claimed over time?  Is it worth the expense?


[1] If I were to continue researching this issue, Bill C-37 would be a likely place to start.


Wittmeier, B.  (2010, September 13) Unused fund reveals tragedy.  The Edmonton Journal. Retrieved September 26, 2010 from

Wittmeier, B and L. Timmons.  (2010, September 11) Found money just web search away.  The Edmonton Journal. Retrieved September 26, 2010 from

Unclaimed Bank Accounts Database. (n.d.) Retrieved September 26, 2010 from The Edmonton Journal:

Unclaimed balances (n.d.) Retrieved September 26, 2010 from Bank of Canada:

Unclaimed balances – Frequently Asked Questions (n.d.) Retrieved September 26, 2010 from Bank of Canada:

LOC – Lost and Found

Recently the Library of Congress (LOC) discovered some 68 British teleplays from the 1950s and 1960s in its collection that had previously been considered lost [1].  This story should bring to mind a host of questions: where did they keep the “lost” records?  How did they not know they were there?  How did they discover them?  At first blush, I find it odd that the Library of Congress (LOC), arguably the most influential library authority in the world, can “discover” supposedly lost records among its own holdings (suggesting that its own archivists were unaware of the existence of such records).

Some clarification: the teleplays were considered “lost” by the British Film Institute (BFI) (; the BBC did not have an archival policy for its television broadcasts until 1978 [2], and are missing copies of programmes from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  However during that period WNET/Thirteen in New York (today known as PBS) acquired and stored copies of a number of these programmes, and later donated them along with many other American broadcasts to the LOC.  The LOC stored them within the massive collection housed by its Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) (  So the teleplays weren’t so much “lost” as no one thought to look there.

WHERE: A little digging reveals that the “lost” teleplays have been kept at the Packard Campus, a state-of-the-art facility for the preservation of audiovisual media [3].  Digital copies have been made and repatriated into the hands of the BFI, while the originals will remain at the Packard Campus facility.

HOW: What is most curious about this story is how the “lost” teleplays were found at all.  An independent researcher stumbled across a couple BBC programmes in the WNET/Thirteen (NET) collection, and realized that it might contain more British broadcasts from that period.  How did he come up with a list of lost programmes?  He consulted a web database of lost UK shows created by a group of volunteers and avid fans of “vintage television” [4].  By running the titles from the database against those in the NET collection, the researcher identified 68 matching records.  If not for the scrupulous record-keeping of those avid fans, those 68 teleplays would have remained lost.

I’m left with a few feelings about this: first, a renewed appreciation for anyone with enough enthusiasm for a subject to maintain a database of “lost” knowledge; second, a sense of awe for the LOC and the substantial resources at its disposal—I imagine most archives can only wish they had the capacity to store and maintain a collection for decades without ever fully assessing its nature and value; and third, puzzlement that the BFI or BBC never thought to inquire after the missing broadcasts at the LOC.

Finally, a list of the different kind of “records” involved in this story:

  1. the teleplays themselves
  2. the LOC record-keeping system or catalogue for the NET collection
  3. the paper records at the BBC and other UK television networks indicating which programmes were never retained
  4. the database records created by Kaleidoscope, compiled from other disparate records, and representing an index of all lost UK television shows


[1] Library of Congress. (2010, September 15) Library of Congress Discovers Lost British TV Treasures [Press Release]. Retrieved from

Kaleidoscope – The Classic Television Organisation. (n.d.) Retrieved September 25, 2010 from

Raymond, M.  (2010, September 22) By Jove, It’s a Video Treasure Trove! Library of Congress Blog. Retrieved September 25, 2010 from

[2] The BBC Television Archive – An interview with Adam Lee, BBC archive expert. (n.d.) Retrieved September 25, 2010 from

Wiping. (n.d.) Retrieved September 25, 2010 from

Sometime in the mid-1970’s the BBC adopted an official archiving policy and began consistently saving copies of its broadcasts.  It seems likely that this occurred in conjunction with or as a result of an audit of their film archive in 1978 that revealed 108 missing episodes of “Doctor Who” in particular, as well as a number of other missing programmes that were either never preserved or erased due to “wiping”, a common practice in the 1960’s and 1970’s whereby videotapes were reused and destroyed after multiple uses.  As Adam Lee describes in the interview mentioned above, prior to the change in policy television was not considered a permanent medium, where once a broadcast was transmitted it was considered finished, rather like a theatre performance.

[3] Raymond, M.  (2010, September 22) By Jove, It’s a Video Treasure Trove! Library of Congress Blog. Retrieved September 25, 2010 from

The Packard Campus – A/V Conservation (Library of Congress). (n.d.) Retrieve September 25, 2010 from

[4] Kaleidoscope – The Classic Television Organisation. (n.d.) Retrieved September 25, 2010 from

The database can be accessed from: