National Archives plans digital service for officials to access sensitive records

Written by Sam Trendall on 22 September 2022 in News
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Organisation seeks support with design and delivery of prototype platform

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The National Archives is planning to implement a digital service through which civil servants can access sensitive government records.

A key part of the organisation’s remit is to collect, store and provide ongoing access to records of government business, which it said are “increasingly” provided in the form of digital files. 

There is an online portal allowing the general public to access all such records considered to be non-sensitive. 

While government officials can also use this service, if they are seeking access to sensitive records – even those archived by their own department and related to their work – “they must visit in person to see records in a physical invigilation room” at The National Archives’ (TNA) headquarters in Kew in west London.

“This not scalable and does not offer a good user experience”, TNA said, in a newly published commercial notice.

The organisation is seeking a specialist supplier to support its ongoing work to develop an ‘Access Your Records’ service providing civil servants with “timely, online, self-service access to the digital records they archive with us”, including sensitive information not available to the general public.

TNA has already conducted discovery-stage research on user needs and begun work on the alpha phase, in which it is creating and testing a skeleton 'wireframe' version of the service. 


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Over the course of an initial four-month contract worth about £200,000, the archive will work with its chosen provider to develop a fully functioning model for further testing and improvement.

“We now wish to identify and evaluate technical options, demonstrate technical feasibility and design a technical solution for implementation of the service,” the contract notice said. “Outputs will include a technical architecture diagram for the service and functional prototype(s) that demonstrate the technical feasibility of the proposed solution.”

The notice picked out a handful of “technical problems” TNA has identified and wishes to address. 

These include the implementation of an authentication platform to verify users across both the existing service through which departments transfer records for archiving, and the planned service for providing access. Other issues the supplier will be asked to help solve include the need for users to “search and browse based on user access privileges”, as well as the questions of “how the service should store and retrieve records” and how best to ensure “security of sensitive data and user information”.

Less pressing issues that are also of interest include: “how to receive and make updates to records and metadata; how to present records to the end user…; [and] integration with the data pipeline service”.

Bids for the contract are open until midnight on 28 September, with work due to commence around two weeks thereafter.

The first priority will be to design a workable system for secure authentication and management of users, which will then lead into work on controls to dictate which records are accessible to each user. 

At the end of the four-month engagement, TNA has the option of extending the contract by a further two months.

 

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology. He can be reached on sam.trendall@dodsgroup.com.

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