AS a concerned archivist/records manager, I support the review by the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission (CLRC) into the Evidence Act which will allow for electronic records to be made admissible in court of law.
When our laws were enacted, computers were not around and must now be changed to allow for changes that have occurred with the advent of information and communication technology.
While being involved with records management issues and workshops over the last three years, the possible dangers of preserving electronic records in PNG struck me.
We have all jumped to use the computers without thoughts for preservation and copying of electronic records for preservation of data for the next generation.
We are not sure as to how long a computer magnetic tape will last and with continuous changes in hardware and software, we are also not sure if we can read these documents again in future.
In the court of law, which version is admissible in court?
The original version or the new version copied using the latest hardware and software?
How long will the computer tape last?
Can the new hardware and software be used to read documents created some years back?
Can evidence or proof business be read some years in future?
These are some of the questions that must be answered before we jump into “paperless society”.
Some organisations have, for example, scanned documents and destroyed the hard copies.
This is dangerous, there is no guarantee that the scanned copies can be read in future.
The CLRC wants to discuss the implications of electronic records on the Evidence Act.
At the moment, lawyers still do not consider electronic records as authentic proof of business which can be tendered in court.
It is not only the Evidence Act but other laws need to be changed and amended so that the new media could be tendered as evidence.
The laws need to be changed to ensure the current electronic records created by the computers are captured and kept as evidence of proof of business.
There is now no need for a letter to be typed and signed before it is sent off.
One can simply write it as email message and send it without signature and/or use his/her electronic signature.
The court does not recognise these electronic signatures at this stage.
Like all paper records, electronic records keep evidences of official transactions and provides as proof of business.
I am fearful if and when the offices want to go paperless like DWU, there will surely be no paper record or a hard copy at all.
These are IT-related questions that must be answered.
Electronic records must encompass management of emails, mobile text messages, database files, photographic images, video tapes and all of these will have to be captured and preserved for the next generation of Papua New Guineans to read in future.
Prepare now and plan for action, otherwise we will loose all the important historical records of the country.
Our national archive is not funded for the management and storage of our paper records.
Government files and closed files have been dumped all over the place and there are no procedures to manage the closed file.
Even the Public Libraries and National Archives Act (1978) needs to be amended to allow for management of electronic records.
We must now plan to set up proper methods for management of paper records and at the same time, plan for electronic records, otherwise, the entire recordkeeping systems will collapse.
I always insist that hard copies must be preserved as well until we are sure that the document can be preserved and read again in future.
The danger is when we loose all these documents, the history of the nation will be lost in the long run.
Records management facilitator/consultant