#ThatDarnList: The Saga Continues*

Hi, all!

Those of you who have been following the current controversy on the Archives & Archivists listserv (A&A), which is monitored (though not owned) by the Society of American Archivists and our de facto professional listserv, might be sighing, you might be angry, you might be dumbfounded. But this most recent controversy demonstrated that there is still a serious problem in the archival profession with the mythical concept of archival ‘neutrality’ and with some archivists’ inability or unwillingness to entertain the notion that we can still be unwelcoming or even hostile to minorities in the profession.

Background: The A&A listserv is generally used for people to post about archival-related matters in the news, to ask questions of colleagues about problems or concerns in the workplace, or to post new employment opportunities. To this extent, it is a very useful source, which allows colleagues separated by distance to exchange ideas, opinions, and professional expertise. However, as with most things on the Internet, there is a more troublesome side to the listserv as well.

Every now and again, certain individuals will post what amounts to right-wing propaganda on the listserv. A particularly troublesome individual here is Peter Kurilecz, a retired records manager (and non-SAA member) who has been posting on the listserv for many years. In fact, the listserv developed formal Terms of Participation directly because of Kurilecz’ previous behavior in posting massive numbers of posts, some of which included this kind of propaganda. Kurilecz has a number of defenders in SAA, who see his provision of links as a valuable service, regardless of their content.

On August 7, Kurilecz posted a link to the right-wing site Campus Reform. This is a site devoted to exposing so-called “liberal bias” in higher education, and seems particularly concerned with minorities who are fighting for equity and fairness in education. The site had posted a “story” about the recent SAA Annual Meeting in Portland, and specifically talked about one session – this session was hosted by members of the Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia group, and featured as a guest a female African-American social activist. In the session, which I attended, participants talked about the development of A4BLIP, and the activist recounted the deep Black roots of the Portland community and the challenges that community faced and faces today in light of other people trying to police access to Black Portlanders’ own history. She talked about a system established to maintain control, to restrict, to mandate, and to deny access. Continue reading

CAA Meet Up @ SAA!

Will you be at SAA in Portland, Oregon next week? Concerned Archivists’ Alliance organizers Katja and Jeremy would love to meet you in person!

Friday, July 28th @ 6:30pm
Spirit of ’77 Bar
500 NE Martin Luther King Blvd

We’ve planned this meet-up to come directly after the ProjectARCC gathering taking place from 4:30-6:00pm at the same location. Come for the climate change…stay for archival resistance networking!


Over Forty States Refuse to Hand Over Voter Rolls to Presidential Commission

In an age of increasing numbers of troubling events, one of the most troubling to date has arisen just before, ironically, Independence Day. On March 11th, Donald Trump signed an executive order establishing a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. This body was empowered to “promote fair and honest Federal elections,” and investigate allegations of widespread voter fraud, a largely fictional phenomenon promulgated by the Republican Party and which Trump claimed, without evidence, had resulted in 3-5 million fraudulent votes by illegal immigrants for his opponent Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. As Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the time, the commission would review policies and practices that enhance or undermine confidence in the integrity of federal elections, including improper registrations, improper voting, fraudulent registrations, fraudulent voting and voting suppression. The commission would focus on the 2016 general election as well as systemic issues over the years.

Trump appointed as vice-chair of the commission Kris Kobach, the former Kansas Secretary of State. This is a deeply ironic choice. Kobach has been dogged at investigating and prosecuting cases of supposed voter fraud in Kansas, and at claiming widespread voter fraud across the nation, but he is noted for presenting these claims without any real evidence. Furthermore, Kobach himself was recently fined $1000 by a federal judge for presenting misleading information in a voting-related lawsuit. In short, this commission has been tainted from the very beginning. Continue reading

Get Involved! Design for Diversity Project

Posted with permission from the Design for Diversity team.

The Digital Scholarship Group at Northeastern University is pleased to announce an IMLS-funded national forum on “Design for Diversity”: a public conversation that focuses on constructing a collaborative pedagogical toolkit to encourage inclusive and ethical practices in information sciences and system design.

This IMLS grant will support a series of public events and working meetings on the ways in which information systems embody and reinforce cultural norms, and ask how we can design systems that account for diverse cultural materials and ways of knowing. The end results will be a teaching and learning toolkit for cultural heritage practitioners in systems design which will better inform both future work and the education and professional development of new practitioners. Continue reading

The Color of Surveillance: Government Monitoring of American Immigrants

If you were not able to watch last week’s conference on government monitoring of immigrants and border communities in the US — organized by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology, you can watch the webcast online at:


The schedule is available here (click on view details).

Stay tuned for another blog reflecting on the conference.

Tuesday Tips: News Round-Up #1



Having trouble keeping up with the deluge of news? Not sure if you even should? A lot of us are feeling genuine information fatigue these days. Below are a few reminders that you can be an informed and contributing citizen without being glued to 24/7 cable news or your Twitter feed.

Some Helpful Big Picture Reminders

Here’s What You Can Do to Beat Trump by Angus Johnston @ Student Activism

The Art of the Real: Disinformation vs. Democracy by Katherine Cross @ The Baffler

Trolls, hypocrites and performance artists are trying to hack our lives. Don’t let them. by Alyssa Rosenberg @ The Washington Post

Some Helpful News Round-Ups


5-Minute Fix from the Washington Post (e-newsletter; scroll down the page and look for the sign-up box on the right-hand side)

The Airport Cases by Sarah Jeong (e-newsletter)

NPR Politics Podcast (podcast)

Pod Save America (podcast)

Amy Siskund @ Medium: “Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember” (website)

What the Fuck Just Happened Today? (e-newsletter & website)

If you have suggestions for other news round-ups, e-newsletters, or thoughtful essays on how to stay afloat mentally in this era of constant news tsunami share in comments or tell us on Twitter: @concerned_arch!





The COVFEFE Act: Presidential Records in the Age of Social Media

One of the reason for the founding of the Concerned Archivists Alliance in the first place was because we feared that Donald Trump and his administration could and might do irreparable damage to the official public record, and might escape accountability for any illegal actions they might take.  Part of our concern lay with the worry that much of what Trump says and does during his term would be considered “unofficial” and thereby not subject to federal records laws.

Just this last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an interesting decision in Hawaii, et.al. Vs. Trump, et.al, in which the court struck down the proposed “travel ban” for Muslims entering the United States from several selected countries. An important but little-heralded part of the decision used Trump’s own tweets (tweeted as @realDonaldTrump) as evidence in the case.

Trump had said repeatedly that the measure was not, in fact, a “ban” that discriminated because of religion but constituted what he called “extreme vetting” and an appropriate national security measure. These statements were belied by Trump’s tweets that did, in fact, call the measure a “ban”. On June 3rd, he tweeted “We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!” The court noted that Trump’s order fails to “provide a rationale explaining why permitting entry of nationals from the six designated countries under current protocols would be detrimental to the interests of the United States”, and in a telling footnote, said that

…the President recently confirmed his assessment that it is the “countries” that are inherently dangerous, rather than the 180 million individual nationals of those countries who are barred from entry under the President’s “travel ban.” See Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter (June 5, 2017, 6:20 PM), https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/871899511525961728 (“That’s right, we need a TRAVEL BAN for certain DANGEROUS countries, not some politically correct term that won’t help us protect our people!”) (emphasis in original). [PDF, p. 40]

The court also noted Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s June 6th, 2017 response to a question about the status of Trump’s tweets, that “The President is the President of the United States, so they’re considered official statements by the President of the United States.” With these citations, the court has essentially ruled that Trump’s tweets are items subject to legal examination and are part of the public record.  Therefore, what can be best described as Trump’s stream of consciousness expressed digitally, his tweets, take on a new legal and political weight. No longer should these be considered the thoughts of a private citizen, but the official word of the White House. They can no longer be ignored or eschewed, but considered instruments of expressing policy.

So are Trump’s @RealDonaldTrump tweets, through which he conducts much government business, now considered part of the public record and subject to preservation and management by the National Archives and Records Administration? Well, social media as yet is not explicitly covered under the Presidential Records Act as documentary materials, but Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) on June 12th introduced the COVFEFE Act (Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement), puckishly named for Trump’s now famous Twitter typo, which would amend the PRA to explicitly include “social media”. Quigley points out that “President Trump’s frequent, unfiltered use of his personal Twitter account as a means of official communication is unprecedented. If the President is going to take to social media to make sudden public policy proclamations, we must ensure that these statements are documented and preserved for future reference. Tweets are powerful, and the President must be held accountable for every post.” Quigley also said that “while his personal account has become the de facto account for government business, it is unclear as to whether or not it would be archived in the same manner as the official @POTUS account under the Presidential Records Act [and another] concern relates to President Trump’s frequent deletion of tweets. Including social media in the Presidential Records Act ensures that deleted tweets are documented for archival purposes, and makes deleting tweets a violation of the Presidential Records Act, subject to disciplinary action. (Emphasis added)  In April, National Archivist David S. Ferriero advised the White House to save all of Trump’s tweets, but the COVFEFE Act would mandate this as explicitly part of the law.

This story demonstrates the importance, and the sometimes-complex aspects, of holding any President or any public official accountable to records laws and to the continuity and accuracy of the public record. As archivists and information professionals, we owe to the future to help ensure, whether through advocacy or direct action, that our history is preserved and the actions of those who defend or violate our rights are fully documented.

Lack of Data Disclosure about Immigration Enforcement

Last week, on June 8, 2017, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), based at Syracuse University, a non-partisan research data center at Syracuse, has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) charging Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – a part of the Department of Homeland Security — with unlawfully withholding records on deportations. The lawsuit follows an earlier lawsuit filed on May 9th.

The records track ICE deportations under its “Secure Communities Program” (S-Comm). The “Secure Communities Program,” which was piloted in 2008 under President George W. Bush, relies on partnerships among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and integrated databases, to speed up deportations.  Following criticism of the program by civil liberties and immigrant rights groups, President Obama had suspended the program in 2014 and replaced it with the Priority Enforcement Program. Under Executive Order 13768, entitled Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, signed by President Trump on January 25, 2017, however, “Secure Communities” was reinstated and replaced the Priority Enforcement Program.

Under the “secure Communities” program, the fingerprints of any human being who is arrested and booked into a local jail for any reason can be matched against ICE’s immigration database. This allows ICE to initiate deportation proceedings against non-citizens. Critics have complained that the program eroded immigrant communities’ trust in police and that it – based on the government’s own statistics – “ensnares huge numbers of low-level offenders and non-criminals in its dragnet, fueling mass deportations of productive community members and the destruction of U.S. families,“ states the ACLU on its website .

Prior to the suspension of the program in 2014, ICE had released detailed case-by-case data about deportation under “Secure Communities.” However, following the reinstatement of the program in January, “ICE began refusing to disclose much of the information produced in its previous responses to TRAC’s FOIA requests,” writes TRAC in a June 8, 2017, press release.

In March 2017, Open the Government initiated a letter to the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security, which was supported by a coalition of organizations dedicated to government openness and accountability, privacy, human rights, civil rights, and immigrant rights, including the Society of American Archivists. In the letter, the groups urged Secretary Kelly and Attorney General Sessions to address concerns stemming from recent executive actions on immigration and refugees. “The Executive Orders on immigration raise substantial concerns about privacy protection and government accountability. Public data allows the public to hold its government accountable – but that is only possible if government information is released in a complete, consistent, unbiased, and open manner.” Following this letter, TRAC filed an earlier FOIA suit in May 2017 charging Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with unlawfully withholding information related to ICE’s immigration enforcement actions and its interaction with other law enforcement agencies.

We will keep you up to date on the court’s decisions.

By Katja Hering