Because archival records ensure the protection of citizens’ rights, the accountability of organizations and governments, and the accessibility of historical information, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) believes that the archival profession must take an active role in advocating for the public policies and resources necessary to ensure that these records are preserved and made accessible. This Advocacy Agenda identifies a limited set of broad priorities that serves to guide the Society’s advocacy efforts in the public policy and legislative arenas. Requests for SAA’s commitment to a specific advocacy issue will be more vigorously pursued if that issue fits within these priorities.
American citizens have a right to know the actions and intentions of their government and its leaders. Government officials at all levels should assume that the public has the right of access to documents prepared by a government official or entity, including communications between government officials or entities. To ensure access, government officials have an obligation to preserve such records properly until they are appropriately reviewed, appraised, and declassified when appropriate. This preservation requirement applies to all records, regardless of format.
Presidential Records Act (PRA) Reform: SAA supports all efforts to strengthen the PRA to ensure that it 1) is enforceable with regard to both the President and the Vice President, 2) adequately encompasses both electronic and paper records and communications, and 3) cannot be altered by executive order. SAA will join legal actions directed to ensuring proper and thorough application of the PRA, advocate for pertinent legislation, and suggest alterations to both court filings and proposed legislation in pursuit of our goals. Issue brief adopted May 2014.
Freedom of Information Act: SAA supports all efforts to strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to ensure that 1) agencies follow both the letter and the spirit of the law, 2) delays and backlogs in the FOIA request process are reduced to a minimum, and 3) communication between agencies and FOIA requesters and between the government and the public regarding FOIA matters is improved. See a detailed legislative agenda.
SAA also encourages state and local governments to acknowledge the right of citizens to access public records. SAA encourages state and local governments to adopt and enforce laws and policies that are based on the belief in the public’s right to these records, and to assume that all public records are open for use unless specific and generally agreed upon reasons can be stated as to why access to a particular record must be denied.
SAA will consider joining legal actions to ensure proper and thorough application of FOIA, advocate for pertinent legislation and agency regulations, and suggest alterations to both court filings and proposed legislation in pursuit of these goals. Issue brief adopted May 2014.
The records found in our archives contribute to a more open and pluralistic society. Records are used by citizens in the pursuit of public accountability, transparency, civil rights, protection of corporate rights and responsibilities, continuity of civil operations, and good governance. To hold government accountable and to provide evidence of the diverse and complex elements of the human experience, it is essential that concerted efforts are made to preserve and make accessible a comprehensive and trustworthy American historical record.
Closing of Archives: SAA recognizes that many institutions face fiscal pressure that may from time to time lead them to consider closing an archives or curtailing its basic activities. Nonetheless, the Society believes that an institution must assess both short- and long-term and direct and indirect costs of this action before making any decision in this regard. Archival experts should be consulted concerning the costs and consequences of any action. Deliberation should be particularly cautious if private or donated historical materials are involved or if the archives has been supported in any part by grants, public funding, or volunteer work. Such factors can create potential liability for the institution. A proposed closing also must be discussed with the users of the archives, both within and outside the institution. [Issue Brief Pending]
America’s first copyright act (1790) sought to strike a balance between encouraging the creation of new works and granting monopolies over knowledge, learning, and expression. Over time, both the scope and duration of copyright monopolies have increased, to the detriment of learning and broad creative expression. A more appropriate balance must be struck between the right of authors to benefit from the fruits of their labors for a limited time and the need of the public to use material freely for the greater benefit of society.
Revisions of Section 108 of the Copyright Act: Section 108 of the Copyright Act, the section that stipulates specific exemptions for archives and libraries, requires revision. Even at its inception in 1978, Section 108's exceptions were inadequate for archivists; however, in the digital age the gap has grown ever wider between the statute's provisions and the unchallenged practices of many archivists in support of preservation and increased public access.
A revised Section 108 should:
SAA adamantly opposes any attempt to restrict further the very limited exceptions in Section 108. SAA will, via its Intellectual Property Working Group, monitor and recommend appropriate actions on Section 108 of the Copyright Act. Issue brief adopted May 2014.
Orphan Works: "Orphan works" is a term used to describe the situation in which the owner of a copyrighted work cannot be identified and located by someone who wishes to make use of the work in a manner that requires permission of the copyright owner. Proposed orphan works legislation, such as the Orphan Works Act of 2008 (H.R. 5889) and the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008 (S.2913), would reduce penalties for infringement if an infringer “undertakes a diligent effort to locate the owner of the infringed copyright.” Issue brief adopted May 2014.
An individual’s right to privacy with regard to certain information—for example, records mandated by government, attorney-client records, and medical records—historically has been weighed against the public’s right to information. Personal privacy should be respected throughout an individual’s lifetime in appropriate ways. Documents recording private information about living Americans should be disclosed involuntarily only when disclosure accomplishes a greater public purpose.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA): SAA supports all efforts to strengthen the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to:
The records found in our archives ensure administrative continuity, help hold government officials accountable for their actions, and create documentary sources through which we come to understand our society. Because of the importance of these functions, archival institutions at all levels of government and throughout society must be adequately funded. Funding should include sufficient resources both to renew and invigorate undervalued operations and to support innovative and transformative projects that enable archives to preserve extraordinary documentary resources for the public.
Adequate Funding of Government Archives and Archival Programs: This Issue Brief was drafted by appointed representatives of SAA, the Council of State Archivists, and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators and was approved by the governing bodies of the three organizations.
National Historical Publications and Record Commission: SAA supports reauthorization of NHPRC by the 112th [113th] Congress at a funding level of $20 million. This funding level will ensure that the agency can adequately and appropriately support projects not only to preserve and make accessible nationally significant records but also to serve as models of best practices for archives of all types. [Issue Brief Pending]
The Preserving the American Historical Record Act: This legislation would create a federally funded formula grant program to provide essential resources to support and enhance the capacity of state and local records sources to provide access to the “other half” of America’s story—that is, those significant records that are kept by sources other than the federal government. SAA supports authorization and funding of PAHR at $50 million. [Issue Brief Pending]
This Advocacy Agenda was adopted by the SAA Council in June 2012.
To view the 2009-2010 Advocacy Agenda, click here.