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Facing Possible Threats Under Trump, Internet Archive to Build Server in Canada

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In the wake of Trump’s election, the Internet Archive has announced it will be moving a copy of its archive to Canada. The archive is one of the world’s largest public digital libraries. Part of the site includes the Wayback Machine, which preserves old websites, allowing researchers to access pages deleted by politicians and others. We speak to the founder of the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Brewster Kahle into this conversation, founder of the Internet Archive, which is such an important public resource, I mean, everything to the Wayback Machine, where you can find the previous iterations of websites. You, every presidential term that’s over, have been running the End of Term Archive to archive, ensure that what’s—the information of a presidential administration is preserved when it changes over, like we see from Obama to Trump. But what about Obama to Trump? Do you see a special threat now when it comes to preserving information?

BREWSTER KAHLE: This administration, or upcoming administration, has promised radical change, even potentially canceling whole departments. So the services that those departments have traditionally served are now online and could be deleted, changed, modified in ways that we really don’t know what’s coming up. So, where we’ve always gone and preserved paper records, which is—provides some level of preservation, these digital is a new—new aspect. And it goes much beyond, just like the previous speaker just said, beyond just recording webpages. We need the whole databases and the structures that science now depends on. But it’s now within an administration that we’re really not sure what’s coming up.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Brewster Kahle, could you explain what exactly happens when there’s a change in administration? Your End of Term Archive keeps all of the information that was previously in a particular administration’s website, but what exactly changes? Is everything from dot-gov sites removed?

BREWSTER KAHLE: Things like the whole WhiteHouse.gov site, of course, just disappears. And so, anybody accessing any of the press releases or any of the information that used to be on that will get broken links. There are—some of the browser manufacturers are starting to point to the Wayback Machine, which we encourage, to be able to continue to find information that used to be on those sites. But it’s now beyond just that. It’s also social media feeds that can be manipulated and changed retroactively, which is done all the time now by a very media-savvy upcoming administration. So, I think we will see more control of the message, especially through the digital channels, and that makes archives, libraries and permanent access even more important.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the Wayback Machine is, Brewster.

BREWSTER KAHLE: The Wayback Machine operates by crawling the World Wide Web, and, actually, with many, many partners, crawling the World Wide Web, and adding those into the Internet Archive’s collections. And those collections become something that, from Archive.org, you can type in a URL or search to go and find a website to be able to then see the web as it was and surf the web as it was. You could see President-elect Trump’s 2008 and 2012 election websites or Hillary Clinton’s old Senate websites. So these websites are now available again as they were. But they’re just pictures of webpages, so they’re not the services behind it. They’re not the databases that climate scientists need, that are currently being used, of NOAA, NASA’s data sets, that have services on them. We would love to go and make it so that we’re not taking snapshots of websites, but whole web services get archived such that they can be used as they were in 2016. So we’re calling out to federal website masters, webmasters, to go and work with us to archive the whole working systems themselves in snapshot form.

AMY GOODMAN: And this whole issue of climate change and the Trump administration, Donald Trump a climate change denier, what in particular are you doing? And if you can talk about moving—well, not exactly moving, but mirroring Internet Archive in Canada, why you’re doing that?

BREWSTER KAHLE: So, there are groups that are collecting the web FTP sites now. They’re going in and trying to do special scripts to go and download all of the different data records that are in these databases. There’s groups in Toronto. There’s going to be a hackathon at the Internet Archive in—on January 7th to try to help tour through the important parts of the federal record, that we can then make a record outside of the government to make sure that it’s permanently available. Then we need to do—beyond that, we need to move it to other countries, because the history of libraries is one of loss. Usually libraries are burned, like the Library of Alexandria in ancient times, and they’re burned by governments. Just the new guys don’t want the old stuff around. They’re often sorry about it tens or hundreds of years later. But if you didn’t make a copy, then it’s just gone. So the idea of having multiple copies keeps stuff safe.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But, Laurie Allen, during the last climate change-denying administration, that of George Bush, some of the changes that occurred are that the State Department removed climate change from its list of global issues, and the EPA’s pages on global warming and climate change research stopped being updated. Now, do you anticipate worse happening under the Trump administration?

LAURIE ALLEN: I think—I think—I’ll also point out that the Bush administration did—also closed, or attempted to close, some EPA libraries all over the country. I think we—we know that people are concerned. I think there’s good reason to be tremendously concerned. My partners on this project in the Program for Environmental Humanities at Penn have been talking to so many scientists who are deeply concerned. And I think the important point is to—better to be safe than sorry. We have—you know, as Brewster just said, lots of copies keep stuff safe. It’s a kind of a good rule. And it is the role of all of us to make sure that this material continues to be available. And so, yes, we’re concerned, but more than that, it’s just wise to take steps to make sure that, whatever happens, these important facts remain available to future researchers.

AMY GOODMAN: Brewster Kahle, if you could go back to mirroring your website in Canada, why you’ve chosen to go there? Canada has just announced that access to high-speed internet is a fundamental right. And also, how do you stop your own databases now, your own servers, from being hacked?

BREWSTER KAHLE: So, how do we stop things from getting hacked? I think it’s copies, really, and putting them on other sides of fault lines, whether it’s earthquakes or hard drives failing or institutional failure, law changes, regime change. So, Canada is warm to digital libraries in many ways that the United States is becoming potentially less so. So the idea of having multiple legs to the stool. We looked at the television archive, so we will record all of television at the Internet Archive, to find out what the Trump campaign promises had been. And things like closing part of the internet up or threatening to—freedom of the press, going and actively saying—hating journalists—all of these are the things that libraries are built on, the idea of having ongoing access to information, historical information. These are what makes libraries work. And so, let’s just plan for whatever might happen. And who knows? Maybe it’s going to be just a dry run and we never needed to do it, but it’s a good idea in any case.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, thanks to the Wayback Machine, we can still read the Mike Pence for Congress site from 2001, which is no longer available via the public web. In one section, Pence’s page reads, quote, “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a 'discrete and insular minority' entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities. Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” Brewster Kahle, could you talk about that and other comparable sites that are—would no longer be available if this resource were not there?

BREWSTER KAHLE: Certainly. The campaign promises that have been made in the past, or policies and the like, can be changed by anybody that controls the current website. So those who control the present control the past. And as Orwell has warned, those who control the present control the future, so that it’s—we really need to make sure there’s a record of these things. So, Pence has made those go away. There have been Trump—within a day of getting control of dot-gov, they put up websites going and trumpeting Trump properties, that were taken away very quickly. And so, there’s actively managing what it is people can see on the World Wide Web. So, the Archive.org is a free resource for being able to see what was on those websites before. We’ve seen press releases change. George W. Bush announced from the aircraft carrier, and the headline read from the press release, that combat operations in Iraq had ceased. And then, a couple months later, it changed to say major combat operations had ceased. And then, a couple years after that, even during the still same administration, they removed the press release altogether. So, I’m not sure what is more Orwellian: not telling you that you’ve changed a previous press release or making it go away altogether. But unless we have libraries, we wouldn’t know any of that happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Shortly after Michael Flynn was nominated to be President Trump’s national security adviser, he deleted a tweet he had posted referring to false allegations about Hillary Clinton. However, the tweet, from November 2nd, was preserved on the Internet Archive. It reads, quote, “U decide–NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary Emails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc…MUST READ!” Explain what you did with this, and go to the bigger issue you explained about social media and how this is a new, really, area for you to archive.

BREWSTER KAHLE: So, the Internet Archive, working with partners, have been archiving tweets, YouTube, Instagram, these different platforms. Facebook makes it very difficult, unfortunately, to go and record what it is that has been said, and now potentially later deleted. All these things are deleted at some point. The companies go under or whatever. And so, going and keeping a record of these pronouncements—there are now 10,000 official government Twitter channels. So we archive those. But we also do the ones from the campaigns and surrogates and the like, to be able to make rich data sets and making those available now back to researchers, so that we can know what it is that was promised.

Television, for instance, is very difficult to access. But on TV.Archive.org, another free resource, you can search based on what people said, including Democracy Now!, and be able to retrieve clips and to put into your blogs and be able to think critically about what has happened. If you can’t quote, compare and contrast, then it just flows over, and you say, “Wait a minute. I think I remember,” but you don’t really remember. So the key thing is to be able to quote, compare and contrast. And libraries are there to preserve a permanent record of things that are often ephemeral, like television, Twitter, websites and the like. And it’s a growing importance.

AMY GOODMAN: Brewster Kahle, finally, do you see an existential threat, a unique threat, to the information on the internet today? And to your own Internet Archive, which is really everyone’s?

BREWSTER KAHLE: The internet is, I think, just an amazing experiment in sharing and mutual trust. And people are putting their ideas out there in a very public forum. And unless we go and ensure that that trust is warranted, if we don’t see too much spying so people will run away from it thinking that they’re going to get in trouble for it, these are very important things towards—that have made the World Wide Web possible in the first place. And it may be hard to remember, but it used to be very difficult to get this type of information. [inaudible] the government records might go into the National Archives after an administration changed, and then you’d have to wait six months, 12 months, to be able then to even make a request for one document at a time. But now we have the opportunity to being able to see what’s changed, what the development are, but also enjoy the benefits of enormous taxpayers’ funding towards building databases around climate change, about the weather data, that’s much more available than it ever was before. Let’s keep that going. Let’s continue to build on the trust that has been the hallmark of the World Wide Web. We just need libraries and archives, academics, people that are working in federal websites that may be displaced over—as changes in administration happen, to work together to make permanent what it is the taxpayers have paid for.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, and Laurie Allen at the University of Pennsylvania Data Refuge Project.

This is Democracy Now! Next up, we look at Donald Trump and the bomb. Is he starting a new nuclear arms race? Stay with us.

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