Parliament: Only 8% of 2 million public government records searchable on National Archives online portal

SINGAPORE – About two million government records over 25 years old are held by the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) as public archives.

But only 160,000 of them have metadata that is publicly accessible on NAS’ online portal, said Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Sim Ann in Parliament on Wednesday (Sept 4).

She added that the number will grow as the Government works with various agencies to progressively declassify records.

Ms Sim was responding to Workers’ Party Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, who had asked for the proportion of government documents over 25 years old and are, thus, publicly accessible on NAS’ online portal, and how many such documents declassified annually in the last five years are on the portal.

In a supplementary question, Mr Perera said that even if a record is on the portal, there are still restrictions in accessing it fully in some cases, such as the requirement to write in to seek approval. He asked if they could be made more freely available.

Ms Sim said there are already “quite a number” of documents that can be viewed in full.

“We hope to make as many documents and records publicly viewable and also searchable as possible. So all this is ongoing work,” she said.

Mr Perera also asked if there was a process to review documents again after 50 years.

Currently, records are considered for declassification when they are 25 years old.

Not all government records can be released for open access, especially those relating to national defence, foreign relations and internal security, as well as documents which may be bound by confidentiality obligations or personal privacy reasons.

Mr Perera said: “At the point of 25 years, there could be certain personal sensitivities, confidentiality obligations. But… those personal sensitivities may not be there, say, 50 years down the line.”

In her reply, Ms Sim said that there is “quite a lot of work to go through” for the current number of records that are at 25 years or older.

“So I think we’ll take his suggestion into consideration but, really, I think the priority is to declassify as many documents as we can and to encourage our agencies to do so and to help us in doing that,” she added.

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