Definitions Edit

Data systems Edit

Context is "the circumstances surrounding the system's processing of personal information."[1]


includes any information that's relevant to a given entity, such as a person, a device or an application. As such, contextual information falls into a wide range of categories including time, location, device, identity, user, role, privilege level, activity, task, process and nearby devices/users.

General Edit

Context is the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event.

Digital archives Edit

The context of digital information includes a (i) technical dimension, (ii) a dimension of linkage to other objects, (iii) a communication dimension, and (iv) a wider social dimension.

First, to specify the technical context of digital information is to specify its hardware and software dependencies. Digital information objects, by nature, require the use of computer hardware and software to create and use them. In some cases, an object may be closely dependent on a configuration of technology. For example, a particular digital document may require a particular word processing program running on a machine with a special kind of computer processing chip and operating system. Other objects, such as an image file, may be readable using a variety of software programs, but may be stored on disk in a format that is readable only with a special computer. For still other objects, like World Wide Web documents marked-up in HTML, the hardware and software dependencies may be specified in very general terms because they are readable with a web browser that is available on almost any hardware platform. The archival challenges for preserving the integrity of these various kinds of objects are, on the one hand, to represent faithfully the context of the objects in terms of their hardware and software dependencies and, on the other hand, to overcome, through appropriate migration efforts, those dependencies that threaten to hinder future use.

A second dimension of the context of digital information objects is the linkages that may exist among them. On the World Wide Web, for example, the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) provides a way to place in one object references to various other objects. A click of a mouse then enables one to move quickly from one linked object to another. If the integrity of these objects is seen as residing in the network of linkages among them, rather than in the individual objects, or nodes, on the network, then the archival challenge would be to preserve both the objects and the linkages, a task that would today be exceedingly complex. At present, there appears to be no good archiving solution; a possible stop-gap measure would be to treat the network in terms of its component parts and to take periodic snapshots of the individual WWW objects.

The communications medium comprises a third dimension of the context of digital information. The character and integrity of digital information objects depends, in part, on their mode of distribution. Material distributed on CD-ROM, for example, has a set of file format and other characteristics that set it apart from material distributed in, say, networked form. As digital materials increasingly come into being and subsist in an electronically networked environment, contextual features of the network, such as bandwidth and security, will account for characteristics of the digital information objects. Increasing bandwidth, for example, will stimulate the production and dissemination of high-bandwidth digital materials such as full-motion video. Similarly, improved security on the network will encourage the conduct of a wide variety of confidential transactions. As network-based objects, such as video and records of confidential transactions, make their way into digital repositories, an archival account of their integrity must include an account of the features of the network context that supports their existence.

Finally, the wider social environment plays a significant contextual role that contributes to the integrity of digital information objects. Networked information, for example, depends on specific policy and implementation decisions that address the bandwidth, security and other qualities of the network and related technical infrastructure. Electronic mail is subject to a variety of social distinctions when, in some contexts, it is used to convey highly personal messages among friends and, in other contexts, is a vehicle for formal communication among academic or business colleagues. One might account for digital business records, too, in the social context of the political and organizational regime in which they were generated. Indeed, the social context of digital information objects is an expression of what one might characterize in other terms as the interests of stakeholders in those objects.

References Edit

  1. Privacy Risk Management for Federal Information Systems, at 29.

Source Edit

See also Edit

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