10 May 2014

Stasi and other archives

'The Poisoned Madeleine: Stasi Files As Evidence and History' by Rachel E. Beattie in (2009) 1(3) Faculty of Information Quarterly (University of Toronto) examines
 the privacy debates surrounding records from the former East German governments secret police agency, the Stasi. The Stasi records of mass surveillance and punishment of citizens serve as both a record of the East German peoples oppression and a vital tool for coming to terms with the communist dictatorship in East Germany. Debates about opening versus sealing these files allowed Germans to analyze the disconnect between rights of privacy and rights of information. The success of the laws created to both open and restrict the use of the Stasi files can be attributed to the innovative way that these laws were able to accommodate those who needed the information as well as those concerned about their privacy. Further, the whole debate raises many questions about the power of sensitive documents. In the course of the debate, the veracity of the files was questioned repeatedly, and individually they are highly suspect. However, taken as a group, they build a very accurate picture of a repressive police state. Additionally, the files work as a collective memory-building project for former East Germans. Through the files, they can acknowledge and work through the trauma of the East German governments surveillance. Ultimately, the German resolution to the problem of the Stasi files serves as an example for other governments struggling with the disposal of extremely sensitive documents. 
Beattie comments
 There is a moment at the end of the film The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen, 2006) when, after German unification, the lead character, East German writer and cultural critic Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), goes to look at his Stasi file. Georg is shocked to find within his file the story of another man, Agent Gerd Wiesler (Ultich Mhe). This scene demonstrates the incredible power of the ability to see the information collected by the secret police in that it positions the Stasi file as a method for reclaiming identity. 
The film neatly articulates the function of the Stasi record as evidence of not only the East German governments oppression but also the East German peoples defiance of it. In the film, a visibly shaken Georg reads a transcript of surveillance on his house. Georg had thought he was free from Stasi surveillance, so this scene acts as an important revelation and forces him to reinterpret his view of his former government. These revelations throw Georgs world into confusion as he learns that his deceased former lover had informed on him and that it was the Stasi agent assigned to watch him who removed incriminating evidence before a Stasi search of his apartment. Through the collection of records that is his file, Georg learns the truththat of the power of one man resisting an unfair government. Thus, suspect records with questionable evidential value in the legal sense of the term come to stand for much more. They mix with former East Germans personal memory, build identity, and create catharsis for survivors of oppression. Through the Stasi lies, former East Germans can learn the truth about their government. 
This article, through the example of the East German Stasi files, will examine the role of records from totalitarian regimes as objects of power, evidence, and keys to memory. These records are automatically suspect, as they were often filled with conjecture, errors, and straight-out lies. However, it is possible that these questionable records also act as evidence in a different, deeper sense of the word and in fact are important agents of memory and identity both of the criminal excesses of the system that created them and of the events they reflect. The Stasi files are imperfect documents and would likely not be admissible as evidence in a court of law. However, they are vitally important for all Germans, and especially former East Germans, who seek to understand the communist regime, hold responsible individuals accountable, and incorporate their pasts into their identities. In essence, the same records that once oppressed can now free and facilitate healing.
'The Opening of the State Security Archives of Central and Eastern Europe' by Paul Maddrell in (2014) 27(1) International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 1-26 comments that
Laws passed since 19911 have opened the state security archives of the former Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe. Such legislation is in place throughout the former Soviet Bloc, but the focus here is on the opening of the German and Romanian archives. The process is far advanced in Germany and much less so in Romania. The contrast between the two very well displays the issues involved. The opening of the archives has been an important tool of de-Communization. The process has been fullest in Germany because of the strength and self-confidence of the German legal system and because of the weakness of the Communists’ political position. It has been partial in Romania because the legal system there lacks authority, independence, and self-confidence, and the Communists have remained strong. 
Important differences exist between the various former Soviet bloc countries, but, generally speaking, the institutions which now hold the Communist-era state security records have four tasks: 
1. to enable the connections of public officials with the former Communist security and intelligence services to be investigated so that those who collaborated with those services can be removed from public office (‘‘lustration,’’ as it is called); 
2. to make available to targets of Communist-era surveillance and repression the records held on them; 
3. to make records available for the prosecution of those who committed crimes during the period of Communist rule; and 
4. to enable historians and journalists to write the history of Communist surveillance and repression more accurately and fully. 
These four tasks serve the purposes of building stable democratic institutions which enjoy public trust, and of giving victims of the Communist security services a measure of retrospective justice.
In discussing 'history writing and journalism' Maddrell comments
The East German Stasi’s files are expressly, by law, to be made available to historians, journalists, and other researchers to ensure that its long-secret role in maintaining the Communist regime in power is revealed to its victims and the whole world. This task is becoming increasingly important for the BStU since its responsibility for vetting will end in the near future and most of those on whom the Stasi kept a file and who want to read it have already done so, making this too a declining area of activity for the agency. 
To ensure that historical research was undertaken, the Law on the Stasi Records provided for the establishment of a special team of researchers, employed by the BStU, to publish histories of the Stasi and its operations. Despite a reform undertaken in 2006, the researchers in the BStU’s Research and Education Department (Abteilung Bildung und Forschung) still have privileged access to the Stasi’s records since they may read them in the original, without any redactions, whereas most other researchers may read only either original files which contain no personal information (or other information exempt from release) or copies from which this information has been redacted. They must also wait for a long time for access to the records for which they have applied, and have to rely on a case officer being competent to make suitable records available to them. Despite their advantages, however, the BStU’s researchers are under the same legal restrictions as other readers as regards what they publish. 
The works of the BStU researchers dominate the academic literature on the Stasi—for better and for worse. Research on the Stasi has advanced further than that on any other Communist security service, due in part to the BStU’s own researchers, who started their work earlier than those in the other ex-Communist states. Moreover, fewer records were destroyed in East Germany than elsewhere. The records have done much to shed light on the repression carried out by the Stasi. Yet the researchers’ agenda has not been comprehensive. For example, more than twenty years after the Stasi was dissolved, very little work has been done on its large-scale counterintelligence operations, and little attempt has been made to compare the Stasi’s activities with those of the other Soviet Bloc security services. There had been little engagement in the BStU’s publications with the academic literature on intelligence in other languages, particularly English. The BStU’s publications vary greatly in quality, the best having been written by a few prolific individuals. There is much to be said for facilitating further research on the Stasi by scholars and doctoral candidates who have been through the university system; they would broaden the range of perspectives on the Stasi, and be better able to integrate scholarship on the Stasi into the literature on intelligence available in other languages. 
Romania has, again, been less fortunate. The Communists remained in power longer and the state security service remained longer possession of its records. Many files have been destroyed. How many, no one will ever know. The SRI’s archivist has suggested that 130,000 files were destroyed during the uprising of 1989, but this estimate is only one of many (the Romanian Information Service’s figure of 27,000 is perhaps an indication of how unreliable its figures are). The larger figure does not include the files which were destroyed in the 45 years before 1989. Estimates relating to the older destroyed files run into the hundreds of thousands. Where to find many of those that have not been destroyed is unknown, as is, consequently, the size of the available archive. More than 1.9 million files are known to exist. Starting later, when fewer records were available, and when it was not known what records were available, has meant that serious historical writing about Romania’s Securitate has barely begun. Uncertainty prevails about key aspects of the service’s history. The records destroyed at the order of the Communist Party in the late 1960s (273,805 files on ‘‘collaborators,’’ according to the Romanian Information Service) concerned party members who supplied information to the Securitate; those who destroyed them were keen to ensure that the Party’s close involvement in the security service’s surveillance and repression remained obscure. Such destruction will create significant gaps in the histories of the service that can be written. 
Another example is the size of its informer network. The Securitate made a distinction between ‘‘collaborators’’ (Communist Party members who provided it with information) and ‘‘informers,’’ (non-Party members who reported to it). Official figures for the size of its human informant network, seemingly obtained from the SRI in 1993, indicate that 507,003 ‘‘informers’’ reported to the Securitate during the course of the Communist regime, and an unknown further number of ‘‘collaborators.’’ The figure seems to be based on the number of informer files in existence in 1993 and therefore does not take account of file destruction—at least 78,000 files are believed to have been destroyed in the years 1989–1993 alone. In 1989, the Securitate had an informer network of 144,289 and a full-time staff of 15,087 officers. This force monitored a population of 21.5 million. These figures are far from being accepted. A former Securitate officer, Liviu Turcu, has maintained that the service had one million informants. The Romanian Information Service long claimed that about 100,000 informers reported to the Securitate, a figure believed to be far too small. No reliable figures for the size of the informant network after 1989 are available. These uncertainties do not exist in the case of Germany. The Stasi’s size, including its network, is known: some 174,000 informers in 1989, reporting to a full-time staff of 102,000 officers. Lavinia Stan, the leading authority on Romania’s efforts to come to terms with its Communist past, claims that Romania had a larger informer network, relative to the population’s size, than East Germany. This is unlikely to have been the case.
'Of Provenance and Privacy: Using Contextual Integrity to Define Third-Party Privacy' by Steven Bingo in (2011) 74 The American Archivist 507–521
approaches the issue of third-party privacy by examining how contextual factors related to the creation and use of records can inform decisions to restrict or open access. Helen Nissenbaum’s theory of contextual integrity, which originates from the discourse surrounding digital privacy, is applied as a means to expand an archival concept of provenance to address privacy risks. Applying contextual integrity to privacy decisions also allows archivists to frame decisions in terms of circulation, rather than as a simple dichotomy between access and restriction. Such nuance is invaluable when considering the impact of making records available digitally. 
The central problem identified by many who have written about the protection of third-party privacy in manuscript collections is the lack of clear guidelines or principles that can be enacted on a profession-wide level. Because of the ethical dimensions of the privacy debate, concern for consistency from institution to institution is all the more pressing. At the center of this debate is what Mark Greene refers to as “the tension between access and property or privacy rights.” Bound up in this tension are concerns regarding the unintentional censorship of materials caused by restrictions on one hand and maintaining the trust of donors and third parties on the other. 
Separate from the archival discussion is a discussion in the fields of computer science and information ethics regarding the privacy of digital information. One of the concepts to emerge from this discourse is Helen Nissenbaum’s theory of “contextual integrity.” One can begin to define information privacy rights, Nissenbaum argues, by understanding norms related to the context in which information is supplied, gathered, and used. In other words, the norms of privacy surrounding a document may be determined by investigating a document’s provenance. While this may seem obvious to archivists, emphasizing provenance as a tool to negotiate privacy concerns focuses the discussion toward appraisal, which has not been covered in much depth, other than to say that archivists should work with donors to identify and properly mediate risk. Contextual integrity, as I will argue, provides archivists another tool with which to tackle privacy concerns in a more prospective, upstream manner. As suggested by some current literature, dealing with risk prospectively provides opportunities to make decisions at broad levels of organisation. 
A second application of contextual integrity concerns access. Contextual integrity, Nissenbaum states, is violated when information divulged within one context is recast in another context, particularly of how the information is allowed to flow in radically different ways. Nissenbaum cites the aggregation of consumer information gathered online as an example of how information provided in one context is appropriated in new contexts without the subject’s knowledge. As archivists embark upon mass digitization projects and seek out options for making born-digital documents publicly accessible, the question of reframing documents in new contexts becomes extremely pertinent. After summarizing the current archival debate regarding third-party privacy, I will flesh out the specifics of contextual integrity. I will then articulate how contextual integrity translates into an archival concept of provenance and apply it to questions of appraisal and access. As a theory that incorporates both appraisal and access, I argue that contextual integrity can help align appraisal and access policies in a systematic and holistic fashion. I will also point out the limitations of Nissenbaum’s theories within an archival setting that arise out of challenges unique to archivists regarding access and privacy. Specifically, contextual integrity does not resolve questions of privacy so much as it identifies key factors that may bear upon the sensitivity of a document, such as the roles of the creator, recipient, and subject of a document. While I promote contextual integrity as a means of bringing privacy risks into focus, I also believe that the default position regarding restrictions should be on the side of access. In other words, it is important for the archivist to prove why a document presents a privacy risk great enough to override our duty as archivists to provide access. I present con- textual integrity as a tool within a larger decision-making process informed by our professional ethics.