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On December 6 Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, appeared in a segment on CNN to discuss recent revelations regarding Mitt Romney's handling of records in his final days as Governor of Massachusetts. According to news reports, Romney's staff went to lengths to make sure records from the former Governor's time in office left with his Administration.
As Dr. McDermott states, "Clearly in Massachusetts it's not illegal to do that… But because something is not illegal doesn't mean that it's right or ethical or acceptable to the public to do so. And we believe that the records of political officials –elected political officials - belong to the public, in this case to the public of Massachusetts. And they should have been preserved."
Complete records are critical for writing an accurate account of history and for holding elected officials accountable for their actions. We know (partly as a result of litigation over the deletion of emails by the Bush Administration) that President Obama has in place an e-mail archiving system that preserves and manages the electronic records of the White House, even the President’s Blackberry messages. Still, though, it is time to update the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act, federal laws intended to make sure our nation's records are properly preserved, to move them from a paper-based world to one that is increasingly digital.