NARA says no to DRM software

Digital rights management software poses a new challenge for records managers

NARA enterprise rights management bulletin

Officials at the National Archives and Records Administration have growing concerns about the effect of digital rights management software on federal records. Allen Weinstein, the nation’s archivist, has issued a new policy stating that NARA will not accept electronic records that include such software.

“Microsoft and other vendors are selling digital rights management and enterprise rights management functions with their software, and people need to know how these tools work and what it means to use them,” said Martha Morphy, NARA’s chief information officer, at a recent conference on records management sponsored by NARA. “Our concern is to ensure music or movies that are official government records do not disappear” because DRM software makes them unreadable.

An April 30 bulletin from NARA states that enterprise rights management (ERM) software manages and enforces information access policies and rights to use electronic documents within an organization. However, using ERM “could impair the ability of agencies to fulfill records management responsibilities,” according to the bulletin.

Weinstein wrote in the bulletin that NARA will scan incoming electronic records to detect whether they have been protected by ERM controls.

“If agencies have either encrypted or applied ERM controls to permanent federal records, it is their responsibility to remove such controls on the record copies before they are transferred to NARA,” the bulletin states. The onus is on agencies, even if that capability is not inherent in the ERM or encryption environment, to develop automated processes for removing ERM protections from bodies of records before transferring them to NARA.

Morphy said agencies can use document access controls, but they should avoid applying those controls to the records themselves. “Agencies can manage digital rights at the server level to control how long a record or data resides on a server,” she said.

NARA will issue further guidelines designed to help agencies use access control software and remain in compliance with NARA’s federal records policies.

One challenge for all agencies is how to deal with data that is encrypted for security purposes. Michael Kurtz, assistant archivist in the Office of Records Services at NARA, said the Office of Management and Budget is working with NARA to develop guidelines for dealing with encrypted records.

That forthcoming ERM bulletin is among several initiatives NARA has undertaken to improve the way agencies manage records, Kurtz said. In the past few months, NARA has developed frequently asked questions and answers about instant messaging, wikis, blogs and RSS Web feeds. The agency released a bulletin to help agencies manage digital audio and video records. It will release other scheduling tips for managing records created by e-mail systems and geographical information systems as well.

In the digital audio and video frequently asked questions, NARA states it does not have formal records-transfer requirements because there is no open, national or nonproprietary standard for digital audio and video. However, the FAQs ask agencies to include metadata as a part of the record transfer.

Agencies can expect plenty of help from NARA, Kurtz said. “We have seven products aimed at timely, relevant and effective guidance for agencies.” NARA selected the topics for its new guidance from a 2006 survey of 28 chief information officers.

NARA is developing a 2008 survey that it hopes to distribute across the entire federal IT community, Kurtz said.
New facilities to house temporary e-recordsThe National Archives and Records Administration has opened two new records vaults that will let federal agencies for the first time store and maintain their temporary electronic documents. The vaults, located near Washington and in Fort Worth, Texas, will serve as a sort of electronic purgatory where electronic federal records will be held until NARA either destroys or accepts them as permanent records.

NARA said the facilities will let agencies store electronic documentation securely throughout its life cycle. The state-of-the-art Washington National Records Center vault also has a disintegrator that destroys electronic documents when their retention period expires. 

“We are proud that we will be able to securely store all types of federal electronic records the same way that we have safeguarded federal paper records for decades,” said David Weinberg, director of the National Archives Federal Records Centers Program.
— Ben Bain

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