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[Slashdot] - Group Files 'Largest FOIA of All Time'

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Reclaim the Records -- a group of activist genealogists, historians, journalists, teachers -- has filed what may be the largest Freedom Of Information Act Request of all time. The group wants the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to release billions of digital images and their associated metadata to the public. From a report: NARA is a government agency that preserves and archives the American government's historical records. It's also supposed to increase public access to those records. To accomplish that goal, NARA partnered with private companies such as genealogical website Ancestory.com to digitize and upload census records, immigration records, and other historical documents. Digitizing these records is a massive task, one NARA likely couldn't accomplish on its own. In exchange for its help, NARA granted the private companies limited exclusivity to the records. That means that billions of documents related to America's history are behind paywalls on sites like Ancestry, FamilySearch, and Fold3. According to the agreements, the sites were supposed to open up their digitized archive to the public after an exclusivity period of 3 - 5 years. "In practice, this simply hasn't happened," Reclaim the Records said in a blog post announcing the FOIA. "NARA has never actually posted online the vast majority of these records that were digitized through their partnership program, not to their Catalog nor indeed anywhere else where the public might be able to freely access and download the now-digital records. This remains the case today, even when the embargo periods for many of these record sets have been expired for more than a decade, sometimes two decades." Most of these are stored behind Ancestry.com's paywall, in part because Ancestry purchased several of the other sites that NARA had made deals with when they were still independent.

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