A new role for the National Archives

After the SIC Commission was dissolved the record creator was no longer available to take care of the documents and make decisions regarding access to them. The National Archives took that role on. This arrangement is counter to the main principle that state agencies keep their records and give access to them for 30 years. After that, the National Archives gets the documents and takes care of everything. There were two main challenges in taking over the archives of the commission. First, taking the digital files and cataloguing and preserving them, and secondly and more troublesome was handling the requests for access.

Outsourced legal consulting

It was evident from the beginning, when the NAI received the SIC archive that the archive could not deal with inquiries and requests for access without legal help. Finding a qualified lawyer was among the first important things to do to prepare the NAI for answering inquiries and guiding the publicjournalists, lawyers and others that could have interest in this unusual archive.

When the SIC archive came to the NAI, the NAI had no lawyer on the staff and the archivists had little experience and legal insight in answering complicated requests for access in an archive like the SIC archive, which was brand new and hot. The NAI needed to have good and constant access to profound knowledge of the relevant laws. An agreement on consulting was made with a lawyer specialized in the law on access. Later, a lawyer was hired part time to work on location with the other staff working with the SIC archive for a period (2014-2017) when the workload responding to large and complex inquiries was most intensive. The outside legal consultant was still the main adviser on most legal issues. Legal advice was much needed in the legal debates that were a part of almost all the access requests to the SIC archive.

The first advice from the legal consultant was that the archive should be extremely careful when handling the requests for access. Making a mistake in giving access and not taking fully into account the interests of the persons that gave information and safeguarding the interests of persons or bodies/entities who have legal protection, could mean the NAI would be sued for compensation.

The legal advisor worked out a draft of guidelines or a direction on the access to information in the SIC archive in November 2010 and January 2011.These guidelines could be used by the archive and sent to interested parties.34

Access to official information

Access to official information in Iceland is prescribed in the Information Act and the Public Archives Act.35 The Icelandic Information Act applies to information less than 30 years old and is therefore the main law on access to the commission’s archive, as far as it goes.The Information Act holds general principles on access such as that people have the right to access information about themselves. The access to the SIC archive turned out to be much more complicated than first expected by the NAI. It turned out that the general principles on access could be challenged by other law and circumstances that the archive was not accustomed to handling.

Inquires and requests of access to the SIC archive

Inquiries and requests to access data in the SIC archive have been the most complicated and most demanding tasks the NAI has dealt with in its entire history since 1882. According to the National Archives records, between 14 May 2010 and 4 October 2019, 55 written (letter or e-mail) inquiries regarding the SIC archive were received (Figure 3.2). They can be divided into general inquiries about the archive and how to access it, and requests to access certain data in the archive.

Besides the 55 original inquiries are 19 requests that are automatically addressed to the NAI because of appeals to the Governmental Information Committee (GIC) (Figure 3.2), bringing the total number of access requests to 74. The requests from the GIC will not be discussed in relation to the issue of who wants access. They are an automated part of the appeals process that will be discussed along with the verdicts of the GIC. But first let us look at the rules on access to the SIC archive.

Number of inquiries to the Iceland Special Investigation Commission archive 2010—2019 by year. Source

FIGURE 3.2 Number of inquiries to the Iceland Special Investigation Commission archive 2010—2019 by year. Source: Yfirlit yfir fymspumir til pjôôskjalasafns Islands uni skjalasafn Rannsôknarnefndar Alpingis (R.NA) og beidnir um adgang ad pul 2010-2019 (August 2020),The NAI archive. Case No. 2006335.

Number of inquiries to the Iceland Special Investigation Commission archive 2010—2019, with the GIC requests added, by year. Source

FIGURE 3.3 Number of inquiries to the Iceland Special Investigation Commission archive 2010—2019, with the GIC requests added, by year. Source: Yfirlit yfirfyrirspurnir til Pjéôskjalasafns Islands um skjalasafn RannsoknarnefndarAlpingis (RNA) og bcidnir uni adgang ad pvi 2010-2019. (An overview of the inquiries to the SIC archive) (August 2020),The NAI archive. Case No. 2006335. Yfirlit yfir kcerur ogürskurôi Urskurôamefndar uni upplÿsin-gamâl (UNU) vegna synjana Ifiôdskjalsafns à aôgangi aô gôgnum RannsoknarnefndarAlpingis (RNA) 2011-2017. (August 2020),The NAI archive. Case No. 2006335. '

 
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