Great Scott! A True Story Illustrating the Importance of Ethics in Privacy and Records Management
Truth is stranger than fiction…
There’s a memorable scene in Back to the Future 3 where Marty receives a Western Union telegraph from Doc almost a century after it was originally mailed, warning him of events to come. Seems an unlikely possibility that any organization would honor such a request to preserve, protect and deliver documents for so long. However, that’s exactly what happens every day, all over the world, and it happened to me only a few years ago when I found out I was adopted at the age of 33! The experience was so life changing that I made a film about it which is finally available this month on Amazon and Itunes.
The State of California, to whom I wrote a letter verifying my identification, swiftly wrote me back with a manila envelope containing a treasure trove of documents gathered from multiple state agencies. In the package were details from social workers, hospitals, doctors and even notes from my biological parents! They were all free of charge and kept under seal for over three decades! We take these systems for granted nowadays but can you imagine how effective a system must be to protect my information for this long, over so many administrations and to do it largely without computers? What really makes these processes work is not technology of course, it’s people. But what motivates these people to do such a thing?
An honorable discipline based on ethics.
I’ll tell you what my own epiphany was, as somebody who works in the fields of Information Governance and Privacy… and that was that record keeping, and those who perform it, are part of the ethical backbone that so much of our society relies on. This often thankless discipline codifies and exemplifies the altruistic commitment we have, and must continue to have to one other. It’s a commitment to value the records and history that tell us who we are and a pledge to protect those records as a matter of ethics ethics and common values. It’s one of the reasons Archives and Records Management has been a passion of mine for so many years.
What can we, as information managers, learn from all of this?
The new era of Privacy is a boon for Records Management because it underscores the truth that the most important data and records are not just necessary for business continuity, death and taxes but are personal. The return of the discussion of privacy as a fundamental right is not new of course. It’s written into the Constitution in the 4th Amendment. It has been defined historically through almost all cultures and even has biblical roots. Privacy a gift that we’re just beginning to learn how to appreciate again and a silver lining in a world struggling so hard to protect it.