The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) recommends that a policy be implemented for uniform government-wide metadata standards for classified electronic records (e-records). The adoption of metadata standards will make declassification review of e-records more effective and efficient. The current focus on analog records (paper and special media) has kept attention from this looming and monumental problem and the need to find methods to deal with the challenge of reviewing petabytes of classified electronic records for declassification.
The Government creates massive amounts of information or data in a variety of digital environments and formats. It needs a metadata strategy designed to preserve and manage this digital information across domains and over time.
Metadata  are structured information which describes the format, content, context and organization of the underlying information in a document or record. Adequate metadata are essential for information management professionals to discover, identify, describe, manage, and preserve records over time and to support the use of records.
Our Government depends on these records to inform history. Records provide policymakers a memory of past decisions and shape future business decisions. Since the 1980s, records have been created in multiple electronic formats, and the number of formats is growing. There is no national metadata strategy or standardized practice across agencies. Without a thoughtful and planned strategy informed by existing national and international metadata standards, it will be impossible to administer this increasingly incoherent records and data environment.
Agencies currently maintain and use various metadata elements to suit their short-term needs without regard to recordkeeping or archival practices. In order to improve access for policymakers and for the public, a comprehensive national standard is needed for the management of digital records. Absent a national metadata strategy and standards, it will become ever more difficult to retrieve important information and conduct efficient declassification review of classified e-records.
Deficiency in metadata elements will lead to an inability to locate and share critical information. Without necessary technical metadata, digital records may not be able to be read or used, and without contextual metadata,  records may not be given accurate meaning. Poor metadata may compromise the authenticity and reliability of e-records. 
A New Recordkeeping Model
The Government currently uses the lifecycle model of records management, an approach for managing paper records which evolved after World War II. Under this model, creators, users, record managers, and archivists are isolated actors. Classified records are created, maintained by agency records managers, and transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), where they come under the custodial care of archivists and are eventually reviewed for declassification. This process creates an artificial distance between archivists and those who originally create and manage this information. In the electronic records environment, this model hinders efficient processing and creates potential obstacles to declassification review and public access.
The continuum model approach to information management provides a consistent, coherent system of records management processes from the time of records creation through preservation and archiving. Throughout the life of the e-record, recordkeeping actions are continuously captured and linked in metadata. This approach integrates recordkeeping and archival functions and mitigates barriers between records creators, users, records managers, and archivists.
We propose that the Government, under the leadership of the Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council, adopts a metadata strategy which reflects the continuum model of information management. The CIO Council should solicit the input of agencies, technologists, archivists, and commercial practitioners and develop comprehensive standards. Specifically, these standards should:
- Automate the creation and management of metadata. Whenever possible, computer systems should generate metadata to minimize the burden on users.
- Keep metadata schema simple to limit costs and complexity.
- Establish and implement clear processes and procedures throughout classifying offices to prevent potential poor-quality metadata and gaps in metadata.
- Stress that the creation and management of metadata is a shared responsibility.
- Be updated regularly to reflect changes in Government policy and operations regarding classified information and to ensure quality control and assurance.
Mandating standardized metadata tagging of records at creation offers several important benefits. Metadata fields will document user actions, create audit trails, normalize declassification instructions, and reinforce access controls to ensure that classified information is appropriately safeguarded. Metadata tags will reveal agency equities to improve the efficiency and accuracy of declassification review. When paired with context accumulation tools, metadata will limit overclassification by allowing records managers and reviewers to monitor classification actions more effectively. Lastly, adopting the continuum model will allow all parties—records creators and users, records managers, archivists, and researchers—more timely and efficient access to records and information, as appropriate.
 In an information technology context, metadata is data about data or database systems.
 Contextual metadata, very simply, surrounds data to provide context to the data; it is secondary, deeper; e.g., “provenance assertions are a form contextual metadata . . .” Available at : http://www.w3.org/2005/Incubator/prov/wiki/What_Is_Provenance#Provenance.2C_Metadata.2C_and_Trust
 Adrian Cunningham of the National Archives of Australia citing an international workshop held in the Netherlands in 2000 described recordkeeping metadata as “[s]tructured or semi-structured information which enables the creation, management and use of records through time and across domains. Recordkeeping metadata can identify, authenticate and contextualise records and the people, processes and systems that create manage and use them.” Recent Developments in Standards for Archival Description and Metadata, Presented at the International Seminar on Archival Descriptive Standards, University of Toronto, March 2001. Available at: http://enj.org/portal/biblioteca/funcional_y_apoyo/archivistica/42.pdf