Trusted Archives of Digital Public Records (ARCHANGEL)

EPSRC Reference:

ARCHANGEL – Trusted Archives of Digital Public Records

Principal Investigator:
Collomosse, Professor JP

Other Investigators:
Brown, Professor A W

Project Partners:
Methods Digital Limited

Vision Speech and Signal Proc CVSSP

University of Surrey

Standard Research – NR1

30 June 2017

29 June 2019

Value (£):

EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Behavioural & experimental eco
Human-Computer Interactions
Information & Knowledge Mgmt

EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Information Technologies

Panel Date:
07 Feb 2017

Panel Name:
Distributed Ledger Tech Full Proposals Meeting


ARCHANGEL aimed to ensure the long-term sustainability of digital archives through the design, development and trialling of transformational new distributed ledger technology (DLT) to promote accessibility and ensure integrity of content, whilst maximising its impact through novel business models for commodification and open access.

Archives and Memory Institutions (AMIs) are the lens through which future generations will perceive today; they form the authoritative economic, social and cultural memory of a nation. For example, The National Archives (>15 petabytes) is one of the world’s largest and oldest AMIs responsible for preserving the digital record of the UK Government e.g. key decisions made by Ministers and advice received. Some of this information is made open, some kept closed for decades. AMIs are founded upon the principle of public trust, of being neutral and completely trustworthy; the immutability and integrity of AMIs are essential to maintaining their objectivity. Yet world history is littered with examples where this objectivity has been compromised e.g. through expunging of physical records during times of political unrest. Today’s digital age presents new socio-technical challenges to AMIs around the safeguarding of data. Digital public records are intangible and so easy to remove or modify without that modification necessarily being detectable. Indeed in some cases, records have to be modified to ensure their continued accessibility as formats change and the curation of data is also accompanied by the need to maintain associated code to render that data for presentation, often across decades. How should decisions over migration or prioritisation of maintenance be taken, or audited? What are the implications of migrations resulting in minor losses of fidelity one hundred years from now? How can the public be sure that digital content when released is fundamentally unaltered from the original? Existing archival practice is ill-equipped to respond to such issues, and is in urgent need of disruption to keep pace with our transformation into an increasingly digital society, so ensuring the integrity and impartiality of knowledge for future generations.

ARCHANGEL was an 18-month socio-technical feasibility study co-creating and evaluating a novel prototype DLT service with end-users to determine how archival practices, sustainable models and public attitudes could evolve in the presence of a trusted decentralised technology to prove content integrity and ensure open access to digital public archives. From a technological standpoint, ARCHANGEL leveraged cutting-edge machine learning to collect robust digital signatures derived from digitised physical, and born-digital, content, within a permissioned DLT. Both signatures and programmatic code to render content and verify its provenance and integrity will be encoded within the DLT. Novel business models for sustaining the DLT e.g. via contributed effort (proof of work) were explored at the points of creation and consumption using a cross-AMI model in which a single DLT is contributed to by multiple AMIs, across disciplines and nations, mitigating the risk of archive distortion by its operating AMI. The impact is not limited to traditional AMIs, but any digital public archive: University research data repositories (linked to DOI); better management of corporate memory in multi-nationals (e.g. financial/regulatory compliance, managing records of prior art in tech companies).

To undertake this adventurous and ambitious project we formed a strategic multi-disciplinary partnership uniting a world-leading group in multi-modal signal processing (CVSSP), the Centre for the Digital Economy (CODE) within Surrey Business School, and a consortium of AMI stakeholders including The National Archives and Tim Berners-Lee’s Open Data Institute (ODI). The infrastructure will be developed with DLT platform provider Guardtime, and impact accelerated via Methods Digital.

Key Findings:
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