The Internet Archive is Moving to Canada: Publicity Stunt or Reasonable Decision

By adifigl2

On December 7, 2015, Donald Trump spoke to a crowd at the U.S.S. Yorktown in South Carolina, “We’re losing a lot of people because of the internet, and we have to do something. We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people…about, maybe in certain areas, closing the internet up in some way. Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech! Freedom of speech! These are foolish people…We’ve got to do something with the internet.” He insisted that ISIS recruitment of “impressionable youth” through the internet was severe enough to warrant limitations in access and availability (Vicens, 2016)

While his statements were not necessarily based on extensive research or even a rudimentary understanding of how the internet works, his flippant response towards the limitation and restricted access of information struck many information freedom activists and professionals as worrisome.

Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, was one of the first to speak out after Trump’s election in November. On November 29th he issued a statement on the Internet Archive blog stating that Trump’s election “was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change…[I]t means preparing for a Web that may face greater restrictions.” Kahle explained that the Internet Archive had been working to create a partial backup in Canada (they currently have additional backups in Alexandria and Amsterdam), but after the election made the decision to make the Canadian archive a full backup of their database, essentially creating a second hub for the archive. This duplicate is often called a “mirror” and is a platform that many websites use to ensure a backup and evade censorship (Johnson, 2016).

Kahle’s response to the election and announcement of their move elicited responses from Rachel Maddow¹, MSNBC, Huffington Post, and nearly every major news outlet. A once obscure website became a hot button topic of discussion seemingly overnight.

I wanted to understand their reasoning behind the move, obviously it makes sense to continue the work that they had already been doing in Canada by advancing the project further, but why Canada?

Canadian laws regarding access to online information and access to the web are very similar to those in the United States. The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) was passed in 2001 under certain limitations, and more comprehensively in 2004 (Wilson). This act implements certain restrictions on the storing of personal information by large corporations and was originally developed to encourage consumer online shopping.

In 2015, Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, was passed in Canada which gave government greater access to citizens’ web based data, and allowed for that information to be used to target potential terrorists (Mendhelson, 2016). While the new president, Justin Trudeau, has promised to repeal a large portion of the more problematic elements of the bill, the restrictions and allowance for government access is very similar to the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 which was passed in the United States (NIST).

While Canada does offer fewer restrictions than the United States in some areas, it has greater limitations on content, and as recently as 2005 internet providers had the ability to block certain IP addresses without any legal ramifications or modifications to laws to prevent it happening again (CBC News, 2005).

The Freedom House non-profit published “Freedom on the Net 2016”, which discusses various countries’ current laws and standings on internet accessibility and freedom of web based information. It rates countries based on three attributes; obstacles to access, limitations on content, and violations of user rights. Canada rates 16 out of 100, and the United States rates 18 out of 100. Canada rated lower than the United States in “violation of user rights”, but higher on their “limitations of content”. Meaning that they are more apt to protect their citizens rights and information on the internet than the US, but that they in turn restrict more information than the US. Ultimately, both countries rate relatively low and similar. The countries that rate best (lowest) on their scale include Estonia and Iceland, both 6 out of 100 significantly lower than both the US and Canada(Mendhelson, 2016).

Ultimately, the regulations and laws surrounding internet and information accessibility do not differ greatly between the United States and Canada. Each have positives and negatives, each are constantly being modified and circumnavigated to appease whoever needs whatever information. The similarities still beg the question, why are they creating an additional copy there? Although it is reasonable to be cautious of storing information in the United States considering our current political climate, it is important to recognize that the same restriction and obliteration of information could rapidly occur in Canada if their political climate were to change. While I do agree that “lots of copies keep stuff safe”, I think it is important to consider where those copies are being stored, especially when taking into account the amount of time and funding that it takes to create those additional copies. It might be paying off for the Internet Archive to draw attention to work that they are currently doing by using it as a means t0 take a stand against the administration, but to praise their decision might be hasty. As purveyors of a world of digital born content, the Internet Archive now holds the weight of responsibility for that information, and in the long run it makes more sense to focus efforts on the creation of more stable copies in countries that are better known for their unrestrictive information laws.


¹ http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow/watch/internet-archive-looks-to-move-beyond-trump-s-reach-820476483790


CBC News. (2005, July 24). Telus cuts subscriber access to pro-union website. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/telus-cuts-subscriber-access-to-pro-union-website-1.531166

Johnson, A. (2016, November 29). Internet Archive, web’s warehouse, creating Trump-era copy in Canada. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/internet-archive-web-s-warehouse-creating-trump-era-copy-canada-n689916

Kahle, B. (2016, November 29). Help Us Keep the Archive Free, Accessible, and Reader Private. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from https://blog.archive.org/2016/11/29/help-us-keep-the-archive-free-accessible-and-private/

Mendehlson, A., & Reed, L. (2016). Freedom on the Net 2016. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/freedom-net-2016

NIST. FISMA Background. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from http://csrc.nist.gov/groups/SMA/fisma/overview.html

Vicens, A. (2016, December 10). The coolest thing on the internet is moving to Canada. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/12/internet-freedom-wayback-machine-moving-copy-to-canada-donald-trump

Wilson, P., & Fekete, M. (2011). Privacy Law in Canada. Doing Business in Canada. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from https://www.osler.com/uploadedFiles/News_and_Resources/Publications/Guides/Doing_Business_in_Canada_-_2011/DBIC-Chapter12.pdf

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