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I'm interested in learning more about USG data retention. I realize this is a complex question. I think it would be too lengthy and complex to examine this for each agency, but I would like to get a top-level (federal) overview of the rules and conventions.

As I understand it, the most applicable overarching law is the Federal Records Act. More information can be found on the Record Management FAQ. Additionally, I've found the NARA Management Guide.

I haven't gone through these yet in detail. Here are some things I'm looking to clear up:

  • The definition of "keeping" and "preserving" a record seems particularly important. Practically, storing a record somewhere is very different from making it discoverable and available via the internet.

  • Longer term, old data formats tend to rust and degrade (in the sense that they become harder to access and interpret).

  • Legally-speaking, can a new administration (in one way or another) defund record-keeping? Can they take information offline that was once online?

Full-disclosure: for data in the public interest, I tend to advocate for open data. I am not trying to lay out my reasoning or convince anyone of that in this particular question. For the purposes of this post, I'm most interested in the facts of the laws and regulations. Distinguishing between rule of law, guidance, and administration preference is also useful.

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