Archives and data protection: why archives and what is in scope

Archives are our collective and personal memory, a unique and irreplaceable part of our heritage.  They contain reliable evidence of past actions and decisions, of the reasons for them and of their impact on those affected. Inevitably, archive collections contain personal information about people’s public and private lives.

As well as their cultural value, archives are about long-term accountability. They provide the evidence required to protect people’s rights and seek remedies when necessary. They enable the rights to freedom of expression and information through journalistic and academic expression, historical research and public access to official documents and are an essential resource for business, writers, genealogists, researchers and historians.

Reflecting the unique role of archives, there is greater visibility for archiving in the new data protection law than before. GDPR contains a new term, ‘archiving in the public interest’, and gives possible exemptions from certain requirements.

Archiving under GDPR

Archiving purposes includes the selection of records/data for permanent preservation. The activities described at Recital 158 are:

  • acquisition and selection
  • accessioning
  • storage and preservation
  • arrangement and description
  • provision of access for all types of research through inspection and publication.

The provision distinguishes the activities involved in archiving from the use of the data by the public or others for research and other purposes involving freedom of expression and information in the future. This might include activities such as historical research, journalism, academic, artistic and literary purposes. (See GDPR article 85 and 89(2).)