Surveillance, documentation and privacy: an international comparative analysis of state intelligence records
The annals of modern history are replete with examples of how state agencies have constructed mechanisms to observe and document the subversive activities of internal parties or individuals as well as perceived foreign influences or threats. While the definition of “subversive” changes with governing parties, the documentation of previous systems persists in the custody of archival repositories. These files represent the lives and work of individuals, and archivists face significant moral and ethical challenges regarding their disposition. This comparative study examines cases from across the globe and throughout the twentieth century to reveal the dispositions of surveillance records. More specifically, the study identifies the main variables that impact how these files are handled. This study begins with a theoretical framework that identifies common trends in the archival literature regarding surveillance files and their place in recovery and reconciliation efforts. Definitions are provided to establish the boundaries of this work within a broad categorization of levels of access that emerged from the case studies. Each level of access is then explored more deeply using specific examples to illustrate the complexities of custody and access encountered with these records. Ultimately, the study of the disposition and access to surveillance files uncovers three interrelated themes: the power of records, the impact of archival practice and the need to fully explore the context in which those files are created and retained.