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Internet history - should it be archived?

Should the 'history' of the internet be preserved? Spearheading this initiative are several organizations, among them, the National Library of Wales in the United Kingdom.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor on

Among the many arguments for copyright and anti-counterfeiting law (ACTA) and piracy treaties, another debate has been slowly making its way to the surface that government will have to decide upon as policy. Should the 'history' of the internet be preserved? Spearheading this initiative are several organizations, among them the National Library of Wales in the United Kingdom. The Internet is a fast changing content space. News organizations archive stories for future reference (including ZDNet) and thus the integrity of the stories is maintained. But will they be archived for use forever? In a BBC report, The British Library is quoted;

The British Library, along with other institutions, has been archiving UK websites since 2004 but has only been able to cover 6,000 sites out of an estimated 8 million.

Currently, it must ask permission from website owners before archiving them.

The issue is not new. Archives of books, film and newspapers is done daily by libraries worldwide. When a book is published, they are assigned an ISBN number for several uses, among them, the Library of Congress in the U.S. It's also used for other index and cataloging such as copyright protection. But do websites and social websites fall under the same category of documentation, archive, copyright and archive uses? Many would argue yes. Certainly library organizations around the world think so.

The National Archives in the United KIngdom sets out goals on its website:

The National Archives is playing an active role in storing and preserving digital material created by UK government. Digital preservation is the care and management of original electronic records. These records are sometimes described as 'born-digital'. These are different from scanned copies of paper or parchment records and include emails, websites, databases and digital images and video.

The preservation of digital records presents a number of challenges because:

  • The equipment and software needed to view digital records can quickly become obsolete
  • Media such as tapes and discs can deteriorate very quickly even if they do not appear to be damaged
  • The context of a digital record and its relation to other records can easily be lost

Everyone relies on the integrity of digital information, from the NHS patient to heads of government. It is essential that this information be preserved for future generations, just as traditional records have been preserved for us in the past, on paper and parchment.

Over 65 years ago the issue was front and center. During a period of complete an utter chaos.  In US Embassy archives, a Directive to Commander-in-Chief of United States Forces of Occupation Regarding the Military. (Ed: The following is the complete section excerpt to ensure understanding of the illustrated point of this article. Bold in the italics quotes are mine)

Government of Germany; April 1945 (JCS 1067) describes such an action;

6. Denazification:

a. A Proclamation dissolving the Nazi Party, its formations, affiliated associations and supervised organizations, and all Nazi public institutions which were set up as instruments of Party domination, and prohibiting their revival in any form, should be promulgated by the Control Council. You will assure the prompt effectuation of that policy in your zone and will make every effort to prevent the reconstitution of any such organization in underground, disguised or secret form. Responsibility for continuing desirable non-political social services of dissolved Party organizations may be transferred by the Control Council to appropriate central agencies and by you to appropriate local agencies.

b. The laws purporting to establish the political structure of National Socialism and the basis of the

Hitler regime and all laws, decrees and regulations which establish discriminations on grounds of race, nationality, creed or political opinions should be abrogated by the Control Council. You will render them inoperative in your zone.

c. All members of the Nazi party who have been more than nominal participants in its activities, all

active supporters of Nazism or militarism and all other persons hostile to Allied purposes will be removed and excluded from public office and from positions of importance in quasi-public and private enterprises such as (1) civic, economic and labor organizations, (2) corporations and other organizations in which the German government or subdivisions have a major financial interest, (3) industry, commerce, agriculture, and finance, (4) education, and (5) the press, publishing houses and other agencies disseminating news and propaganda. Persons are to be treated as more than nominal participants in Party activities and as active supporters of Nazism or militarism when they have (1) held office or otherwise been active at any level from local to national in the party and its subordinate organizations, or in organizations which further militaristic doctrines, (2) authorized or participated affirmatively in any Nazi crimes, racial persecutions or discriminations, (3) been avowed believers in Nazism or racial and militaristic creeds, or (4) voluntarily given substantial moral or material support or political assistance of any kind to the Nazi Party or Nazi officials and leaders. No such persons shall be retained in any of the categories of employment listed above because of administrative necessity, convenience or expediency.

d. Property, real and personal, owned or controlled by the Nazi party, its formations, affiliated associations and supervised organizations, and by all persons subject to arrest under the provisions of paragraph 8, and found within your zone, will be taken under your control pending a decision by the

Control Council or higher authority as to its eventual disposition.

e. All archives, monuments and museums of Nazi inception, or which are devoted to the perpetuation of German militarism, will be taken under your control and their properties held pending decision as to their disposition by the Control Council.

f. You will make special efforts to preserve from destruction and take under your control records, plans, books, documents, papers, files, and scientific, industrial and other information and data belonging to or controlled by the following:

(1) The Central German Government and its subdivisions, German military organizations, organizations engaged in military research, and such other governmental agencies as may be deemed advisable;

(2) The Nazi Party, its formations, affiliated associations and supervised organizations;

(3) All police organizations, including security and political police;

(4) Important economic organizations and industrial establishments including those controlled by the Nazi Party or its personnel;

(5) Institutes and special bureaus devoting themselves to racial, political, militaristic or similar research or propaganda.

Other agencies are also trying to recover historical documents and files, including the German Government which has been ongoing since 2007, attempting to reconstruct former East German Secret Police documents that were shredded. Should the history of Internet be any different?

Additional resources:

FCC releases 'Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan'

U.S. Library of Congress

International ISBN Agency

United Kingdom National Archives

French solution to illegal download and copyright infringement - tax Google and Yahoo

Google loses book copyright case in France

Lobbyist: Canada cans copyright deal in exchange for U.S. dropping Buy America

European Parliament notice to ACTA negotiators: Open up discussion and be transparent to the public

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