NARA clarifies demands on Web site snapshots

NARA clarifies demands on Web site snapshots

BY PATRICIA DAUKANTAS | GCN STAFF

A barrage of questions and complaints from agencies has forced the National Archives and Records Administration to clarify its requirements for saving snapshots of Clinton administration Web sites.

Although the March 20 deadline for sending the Web snapshots to NARA hasn't changed, the records agency will heed agency worries that the disclosures could lead to security breaches.

Preservation of an outgoing administration's Web sites wasn't an issue during the last White House transition because the Web was in its infancy in 1993.

'This is kind of new for everybody, which is why it has gained such a profile,' said Edwin McCeney, NARA's Archival Preservation System product manager.

To preserve the look and feel of federal sites at the end of the Clinton administration, NARA on Jan. 12 asked all agencies to archive their sites. Initial requirements drew complaints from webmasters about the short notice [GCN, Feb. 5, Page 1].

More than 40 agencies sent representatives to an informational forum NARA held on Feb. 9, said Nancy Allard, a member of NARA's policy and communications staff.

'Once we removed the mysterious cloud of procedure, the agencies are willing and able to make the deadline,' McCeney said.

After the meeting, NARA revised its list of frequently asked questions about records management, at www.nara.gov/records/faq05-01.html.

The revised FAQ list addresses concerns about computer security. Some agencies fear that revealing too much about their Web infrastructures will leave them vulnerable to outside attack, Allard said. On the other hand, NARA needs some of the information in case its technicians have problems with the snapshot tapes.

Know your info

Also, in the long term, the information will be important to researchers who want to know how the Web sites of the first Internet-era presidency were put together, Allard said.

'NARA recognizes that some of the information agencies are providing on the Web Site Description Form relating to hardware, operating systems and configuration must be protected as sensitive computer security information,' the FAQ list noted.

As long as the data remains current, NARA will exempt it from the Freedom of Information Act.

In other clarifications to the snapshot policy, NARA will accept documentation in Hypertext Markup Language instead of ASCII text files. Agencies do not have to tell NARA what authoring tools they used or send copies of the tools.

Despite agencies' initial complaints, NARA has not extended the deadline for snapshots and documentation past March 20. Agencies that are having trouble meeting the deadline should contact NARA as soon as possible to discuss their concerns.

NARA set the deadline early because a longer time frame would have encouraged managers to give the snapshots low priority, Allard said. 'When you have competing priorities, you work toward the closer deadline,' she said.

As of Feb. 23, 54 agencies had submitted their Web snapshots to NARA's Electronic and Special Media Records Services Division, McCeney said.
The Web preservation program has been as much of a challenge for NARA as for other agencies because it's never been done before, McCeney said.

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