Declassifying National Archives

MP He Ting Ru

Ms He Ting Ru (Sengkang): Thank you, Sir. When we talk about building resilience as a nation, we should also avoid hindering the public’s ability to scrutinise and deeply learn about our history so that we and our children may develop a more precise understanding and draw insights from it to formulate better decisions for the future.

I would like to ask the Minister for an update on the number and proportion of Government documents that are at least 25 years old and are part of the public archives contained in a publicly accessible National Archives online.

First, if declassification continues to be slow, is the Government using or working on one day using new tech, like, AI, to accelerate the process? Secondly, I understand that request on National Archives online take up to 12 weeks. Why are these documents not automatically visible since they are already declassified? This lowers the barriers for research and will foster a broader ecosystem on the study of our history.

The Leader of the Opposition earlier spoke what the difficulties he faced when making requests to access certain Government files, despite the documents being made available to researchers previously. Could we thus refine the request process to make clearer the mechanisms available to individuals who wish to appeal against rejections of their requests, by allowing an independent process by which the appeal is adjudicated? This process can also take into account concerns about other decisions surrounding declassification issues.

When former Member for Aljunied GRC, Mr Low Thia Khiang, filed a cut on this topic in 2014, he noted that the 30-year rule was adopted by many countries, including the United Kingdom and Israel. Since then, the UK has completed the transition to a 20-year rule and Israel has moved to a 15-year declassification regime for most of its non-security-related foreign policy documents, while remaining sensitive to its current security situation. As Mr Low mentioned, we surely are in a better position than Israel. 

Thus, it is that we repeat our call for such documents to be declassified, 25 years from the date of record and to make them freely accessible to all.

Ministry of Communications and Information
28 February 2023

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