Project

Archives Without Borders

Support Columbia Global Policy Initiative, The Lenfest Group - Global Policy Initiative Fund, and the National Science Foundation Resource Implementations for Data Intensive Research Grant
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Support Columbia Global Policy Initiative, The Lenfest Group - Global Policy Initiative Fund, and the National Science Foundation Resource Implementations for Data Intensive Research Grant

Led by Professors Matthew Connelly, Renato Rocha Souza, and Michael Moss, Archives Without Borders aims to improve the efficiency of government data declassification and to ensure public access to declassified data. With the support of a Faculty Grant in 2015 and a supplemental Lenfest Grant in 2016 from the Columbia Global Policy Initiative, the project has developed the world’s largest publically available database of declassified documents. 

The massive growth in government electronic records is overwhelming officials charged with reviewing them for declassification. Without new technologies to identify and protect sensitive information, and accelerate the release of everything else, it will erode core principles of democratic accountability. Archives Without Borders brings together a multidisciplinary team from Brazil, the UK, and the US uniquely suited to address this challenge and advance practical solutions. 

In June 2016, Matthew Connelly joined with Ann Thornton, Columbia University Librarian and Vice Provost, in launching the Freedom of Information Archive. The Columbia Global Policy Initiative grant and a weeklong workshop in Brazil allowed Connelly and Thornton to refactor their database of declassified documents and overhaul their web interface and API. 

In Oct. 2016, the project was awarded a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. This, together with a Lenfest grant, made it possible to add a further 600,000 documents to their database, develop new metadata, and train undergraduate and graduate research assistants.

In the year ahead, the project will be working with both the CGPI and NSF Principal Investigators (Robert Jervis, Owen Rambow, and Arthur Spirling) to ingest and process new collections of data and documents, including the CIA CREST Collection and the ACLU Torture Database. They will also add their first collections from Brazil (the Azeredo da Silveira papers) and Great Britain (the Cabinet Office Papers). The project will expand its work extracting names of people, locations, and organizations, and begin network analysis of all these corpora. It will continue research already started by Connelly, Souza, and Flavio Codeco Coelho on “classifiers” that can leverage such data to automatically rank order records that are most or least likely to have sensitive information. 

Policy Goals

  1. Create tools to assist governments with sensitivity review.
  2. Create an international web-based archive of declassified documents and data-analytic tools.
  3. Advocate for the essential role of archives in preserving democratic accountability.

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Project Manager, Archives Without Borders
Research Assistant, Archives Without Borders