New International Council on Archives chief fires salvo at Big Tech

Algorithmic Contaminations

The head of the National Archives of Australia, David Fricker, has kicked of his term as the president of the International Council on Archives with a firm warning that shifting technology standards mustn’t be allowed to undermine the public and economic value of the information and data they harness.

Speaking from Paris, Mr Fricker said that information assets, like other valuable resources, needed to be well understood and carefully managed to realise their full social and economic potential.

The opening words from the Australian who has ascended to become the world’s most senior archivist appear to be a strong signal to the technology sector that governments are becoming much less willing to become hostage to proprietary lock-ins on data, information and document standards that act to undermine interoperability and openness.

“In a hyper-connected world that is flooded with data, it is essential to have access to reliable information that is authentic, complete, usable and accessible. In this, the role of archives and archival institutions is vital,” Mr Fricker said.

“Archivists have a deep understanding of information. We understand its vulnerabilities, its sensitivities and of course its long term value. We have a lot to offer to governments, business and to the broader community as they wrestle with the issues of the modern world and I know our contributions will be welcomed and appreciated.”

A core position of Mr Fricker’s is the belief that too much discussion on Information revolves around technology alone in the face of complex challenges like digitisation, big data and the globalised digital economy.

Mr Fricker has also signalled that “infopolitical” issues such as open government, national security and the right to information and individual privacy are firmly on his agenda.

The appointment of the Australia’s chief archivist to head the prestigious international body represents a coup for the Australian Government because it provides international validation of what have been at times been contentious positions to retain public control over data standards.

“While technology is of course the essential enabler, it is the data that matters,” Mr Fricker said.

“Technology must advance and be constantly replaced and refreshed, but archives must endure forever. The preservation of the world’s digital heritage will require a sustained, coordinated effort and partnerships with many organisations across the world.  The ICA must play its part.”

Mr Fricker said that as the ICA’s strengths grew, the organisation was now poised to “become increasingly influential across all spheres of industry, academia and government.”

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