April 18, 2006
Archivist Allen Weinstein
National Archives and Records Administration
700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20408-0002
By fax: (202) 208-3267
Dear Professor Weinstein:
Archivists share a passion and professional ethic for open access to government records. We believe that a citizen’s right to review public records is a hallmark of democratic government. This right allows citizens to hold their public leaders accountable and to protect their rights and privileges.
Archivists understand that access to some records must be limited in the interests of national security and to protect individuals’ privacy. However, recent news articles about efforts begun before you took office to reclassify records, including references to a secret memorandum of understanding, have raised a number of concerns. We understand that these reclassification efforts may be an attempt to correct errors of documents mistakenly declassified.
At the same time, we are concerned that those agreements may have been an effort to restrict access to information for reasons other than national security. Our concerns are reinforced by a portion of the agreement with the Air Force that indicates the motivation was, in part, “to avoid the attention and researcher complaints that may arise from removing material that has already been available publicly from the open shelves for an extended period of time.” As Representative Christopher Shays said in a 14 March 2006 hearing, “Secrets are kept to protect the national security, not to prevent embarrassment or protect Cold War bureaucrats from history's judgment.”
We very much appreciate several actions that you have taken to balance the public’s need to know against national security interests, including
The Society believes that only those documents that would pose a genuine security threat if open should be reclassified, that all other documents be left declassified, and that agreements with agencies restricting access to be published.
On behalf of the members of Council of the Society of American Archivists, I commend your efforts to support those principles.
SAA President, 2005-2006