Guidelines for Administering Restricted, Confidential, and Sensitive Records


The staff of the UW-Madison Archives and Records Management department within the larger Special Collections Division strives to facilitate and provide the broadest access possible to the archival records of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Through our aim to provide access, we must also follow applicable state and federal laws that govern access to records. While the Archives staff will take every realistic measure to screen records for information that may be restricted or sensitive, the responsibility remains with the originating donor (campus or non-campus) of records to identify materials that contain restricted and sensitive information and alert the staff to such incidents. Please contact the UW Archives staff with any questions related to restricted, confidential, and sensitive records.

Common Types of Restricted Records

Below are some common categories of restricted, confidential and/or sensitive records. This list is not comprehensive and does not include all cases where state and/or federal laws may impact access and use.    

  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as social security numbers
  • Historically significant UW-Madison and/or UW System Legal Case Files
  • Building plans, architectural records, blueprints, etc. (for buildings that still exist and are under the management of UW-Madison) 
  • Financial Information (credit card numbers, debit card numbers, checking account numbers, or draft account numbers)
  • Health Records (HIPAA, HITECH Act)
  • Personnel Records (Human Resources records, tenure files, disciplinary cases, etc.) 
  • Student Records (FERPA)
    • Documents with a student’s name and ID number
    • Class rosters
    • Grade lists
    • Disciplinary records
  • Donor imposed restrictions

General Rules Regarding Restricted Records

Restrictions are placed on records in order to follow state or federal laws, in addition to donor preferences. Records that are restricted, sensitive, confidential, etc. under state or federal law while in possession of originating donors (campus or non-campus) will retain their status after transfer to the UW-Madison Archives. When the Archives staff considers providing access and use to restricted records that are transferred under an approved UW-Madison records schedule, we may need to consult with University Legal Counsel for further guidance regarding balancing public interest and policies related to the appropriate disclosure of records. Generally speaking, access and use will be granted when benefits of allowing access outweigh any harm to individuals, groups, governing bodies, families, etc. mentioned in the records.

Sample Methods of Access to Restricted Records

The University Archives may provide access to restricted records in limited circumstances and requests are handled on case-by-case basis. 

  • The University Archives has negotiated agreements with donors allowing access to restricted records under specific circumstances. These agreements are documented in a number of ways within the Archives, so please consult the Archives staff as needed. 
  • Court order obtained by an individual/group wishing to access specific records. 
  • Specific permission, in writing, from the originating donor (campus or non-campus) that created the records granting permission of individual/group wishing to access the records. 
  • Permission granted from University Legal Counsel.

Archives Policy Related to Sexual Assault and Harassment Records

The University Archives may contain files and records related to sexual assault and harassment. While some records have been identified and marked as such, many are interspersed throughout various collections and are not flagged in any way. If any staff working in Archives (professional or student) identifies records that are related to sexual assault and harassment (or allegations), they may need to consult with University Legal Counsel who will consider aspects of the law and legal principles related to, for instance, privacy and victims’ rights to determine if it’s reasonable to release sexual assault/harassment information. As needed, University Legal Counsel and Archives staff will work together to determine if the records can be released, should be withheld, or whether names should be redacted before providing access.