If you’ve ever transferred records to us here at QSA, you would have received a Restricted Access Period notice from us.
Affectionately known as RAPs in our part of the world, they are crucial to the work we do. But to some of you out there they could seem a bit of a mystery. What exactly is a RAP? Why set them? Why are they so important? Well let’s answer these questions for you and help you unravel the great mystery of the RAP.
What is a RAP?
Under the Public Records Act 2002, all records in our custody are required to have a RAP applied to them when they are transferred to QSA.
Basically, a RAP determines whether a record is open or closed (and for how long). Open means everyone (the public) can access the record, and closed means access is only allowed with permission from the agency responsible for the records (you guys). Other than in extremely rare circumstances, records cannot be closed indefinitely.
The RAP you set when you transfer records stipulates the set period of time the records are restricted before they become accessible to the public and the period of time can range from 0 to 100 years.
The ‘set period of time’ for a RAP is key as it is the intent of the Act that eventually all records become available for public access. Currently about 63% of our collection is open – so a third of the collection is unable to be viewed and used without permission.
How long is a restricted access period?
What determines the timeframe of the RAP I hear you ask? There are a couple of factors that determine how long the RAP should be set for.
Even though we want records open, some contain information that is sensitive and should not immediately be widely available to the public. This could include things like:
- personal information of an individual
- information that is subject to legal professional privilege, or
- state or national security information.
There might also be other considerations such as whether access to the records is set by legislation other than the Public Records Act.
It’s important to remember though that the older the record is, the less sensitive the content is likely to be. It’s not likely that someone from 1921 is still living at the same address!
Does the RAP apply to what’s in the catalogue?
Another thing that RAPs stipulate is whether the description about the record (also called metadata) should be visible in the public catalogue.
Record descriptions include information such as the record title (which might include names of people), dates, departmental numbers and the record’s format. This information is really useful to help us, you and the public find what they are looking for.
Most descriptions about the records are available for searching in the public catalogue, even if the records themselves are restricted. Only sensitive and confidential information identified by the responsible agency is not publicly searchable.
How do you set a RAP?
But how do you actually set the RAP? It’s easy! Just fill out the form – also known as the Restricted access period (RAP) notice!
RAPs can be set and changed at any time, but it’s most commonly done when records are first transferred to QSA.
We’ve created a handy Practical Guide to Setting RAPs to help you through the process.
So that’s pretty much a wrap about RAP’s. For more info, check out our advice on Restricting access to records at QSA on our website.