There is a politics of access to information. Book burnings have often accompanied regime shifts. Speech, information, art, and access to them have all been controlled to varying degrees by every government in our history. Talking about the World Wide Web creates a false sense of universality of information online, this is not the case. Iran, China, the US, and Sweden all have different World Wide Webs, because they wanted it that way.
In these ways, the Internet Archive becomes a desperately needed and deeply political operation. Documenting as much information it can, across borders, across laws, across technologies, and housing them on one website (but across a few physical countries) for anyone with access to explore is an astounding feat. Yet still, it’s an incomplete archive. There is information that those in power will not allow to be publically archived in such a manner, and that classified database is growing quickly. What tools and archives are the Internet Archive indebted to for expanding it’s database? What more radical factions of free speech and information access have contributed to the Archives’ larger than 10 petabyte vaults?
After all, the new Utah Data Center for the NSA will be measuring their archive by the exabyte.
While Cryptome and WikiLeaks would dump as much information as possible into the public arena, it seems Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Edward Snowden have learned from WikiLeaks, and chosen to publish slowly and in a calculated manner. Just as every politician finished promising that there was nothing left to reveal after Snowden’s most recent leak, still more would roll out, directly refuting their promises. This team worked the news cycle to their advantage. While Assange did prove the hollowness of so much political rhetoric, Greenwald and Poitras made everyone able to feel it.
Snowden’s actions, just like Assanges or Cryptome’s forces us to consider the limitations of our archives. What good is the democratic process if we have only a marginal picture from which to operate? How can we make decisions and elect officials without some of the most important information? Who gets to decide what we know? How do we access our archives?
Although hackers, activists, and journalists have long suspected and researched the existence of programs such as those revealed by Snowden, the outpouring of proof beyond what many ever imagined has been staggering. Absurdly comprehensive, invasive, and pervasive surveillance operations with chilling access have been revealed. Operations that the people never knew existed have suddenly become hotly debated in public, exactly how legislation and elections are meant to be decided.
Edward Snowden. A former NSA and CIA employee, this Booz Allen Hamilton agent has shown the world how little we know about how it operates, and how much access low-level security officials have to our everyday lives. Like Assange, Snowden is trapped between two worlds. He is live-casted, interviewed, and an incredibly influential person around the world, yet no country will risk flying him out of Russia.
Having spent over a month in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, applying for Asylum in 21 countries before disappearing into Russia with a one-year temporary asylum. Snowden is the thorn in the intelligence community’s side. Thanks to him, a few key gaps in our public Archive have been filled in. Our government even forced down a presidential plane in an attempt at stopping more of his information from getting out. How many more Snowdens are there in the world?
WikiLeaks was of course founded by Julian Assange in 2006. The now notorious Australian hacker + activist created the international non-profit to help whistleblowers anonymously publish secret and classified information. While Collateral Murder might be WikiLeaks’ single most infamous document, the “Iraq War Logs” were by far their largest, with over 400,000 documents published. Controversial even for many Open Access folks, The Iraq War Logs revealed approximately 15,000 Iraqi civilian deaths which had previously gone unreported.
The gravity of 15,000 civilian lives lost and ignored by mainstream media and governments alike stands as testament to the necessity of WikiLeaks, and the similar leaking organizations it inspired. While almost every US official discussing WikiLeaks points to the potentially deadly reality of publishing un-redacted and unapproved classified information, nobody is able to cite a single death caused by their publication. Meanwhile, the 15,000 deaths the same government covered up continue to go largely ignored.
WikiLeaks states that, “One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.” Yet an important lesson about humanity’s understanding of information came when WikiLeaks dumped thousands of important documents into our information ecosystem, and few listened. Sure, they had the proof, but what good was that if nobody was reading it?
What good is an archive nobody trusts?
As Assange remains captive in the Ecuadorian Embassy out of fear of arrest, the documents he helped leak have also been around the globe, seeking safe harbor. Iceland and Sweden are the only two countries the information can be safely hosted, due to the countries’ impressive free speech laws. Thankfully, if they are hosted somewhere, they can technically be read anywhere. Access to our archives have expanded.
Anonymous is a group of trolls who became political. Loosely forming in 2003 of 4chan, Anonymous was all about the lulz until a leaked video of Tom Cruise espousing the virtues of Scientology was heavily censored by the church. Anonymous had found their cause; freedom of expression and transparency. DDoS attacks, street protests, the hacking and leaking classified or private information, and more have all become part of Anonymous’ collective tool box.
Responding to treatment of Assange and Wikileaks by Paypal, some Anons used a botnet attack which temporarily crippled Paypal’s servers, allegedly costing the company $5.5million. 14 participants were arrested and found guilty of the attack in December of 2013.
The group has been involved in several leaking incidents, most notably of Aaron Barr, CEO of security company HBGary. They hacked his computer, vandalized his site and Twitter feed, and leaked his emails to the Pirate Bay. Furthermore, the leaks revealed the firm was planning to use DDoS attacks and smear campaigns against Wikileaks and Anonymous themselves. Anonymous is one anarchistic arm of the fight for free speech and transparency.
As more people come online so too does our archive. Yet, techniques and protocols we have honed and mastered over the centuries of archiving physical objects like books and vases have become irrelevant to the astounding quantity of bits we our producing daily. In many ways this new data is even more susceptible to deterioration than our previous archives were. While book burnings and library fires remain deplorable in our collective memory, the shuttering of one blogging service, pervasive link rot, or a suddenly obsolete file format can represent a far greater loss of our society’s database.
Nadhmi Auchi is an Iraqi billionaire involved in a $504 million corruption scandal, which he was eventually convicted for in 2003 and fined $2.8 million. The conviction aside, many have unsuccessfully attempted to prove Auchi’s involvement in oter scandals. Yet when Auchi’s name began becoming tied to Obama, Auchi began a libel-campaign against news outlets investigating the story, including WikiLeaks.
Fearing years of costly litigation, most of these outlets withdrew their articles instead of facing court. Their words disappeared behind 404s, or simply ceased to exist. There was no notice of allegedly illegal material being removed, an editorial decision, no reference to Rezko and Auchi’s trials and threats of litigation are mentioned. Just a 404.
This article does not exist.
The Auchi case is not unique. What does this mean for our information archive? How do we understand our public record, the 4th Estate, when it can be wiped out so thoroughly? There are famous instances of totalitarian regimes asking their citizens to tear out certain undesirable pages of books, thus calling attention to that page. Our online archive can be much more insidiously changed.
Thankfully, the Archive has saved some of these censored articles. They are there, on the Wayback Machine, just waiting to be read. So although the average user may never find them or know they exist, they are still there; that information hasn’t been lost. Waiting a day they can be published more visibly.
Tor is the safest way to anonymously browse the web since its founding in 2002. Snowden used it, WikiLeaks strongly urged leakers to use it, even the Navy uses it. Tor references the term, “onion routing,” which refers to a complex process of anonymizing online communication and it’s metadata with a series of strong encryptions, each nestled inside one another like an onion, making true anonymity online possible, when used correctly of course. Tor allows you to safely send information without anyone being able to know your identity, making it a godsend for leakers, whistleblowers, or journalists in places where freedom of speech is limited.
Originally sponsored by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and DARPA, not exactly allies of free speech around the world, Tor has become the defacto whistleblower tool. It is required to even enter sites like the Silk Road or Strongbox. Tor also allows users to circumvent censorship tools, making it powerfully important to dissidents and journalists in countries without a free press.
While anyone can publish information online, not getting arrested or killed for doing so is another matter entirely. It’s no accident that journalism is one of the most deadly professions in the world. What good is a library if everyone is too afraid to enter? What good is information if you cannot see it? Tor is the tool that makes radical archives more possible.
Attempts of shutting down Cryptome have repeatedly taken place, including from its hosting company, Verio, as well as by Network Solutions for supposed DMCA violations. Much like WikiLeaks, in 2010 PayPal froze Cryptome’s funds and blocked all donations coming in to the site. The block has since been lifted.
Cryptome has been unapologetically dumping as much information as they can into the public archive since 1996, the same year the Internet Archive began. While the Archive seeks “universal access to all knowledge,” by documenting our public record, what good is it if the information most important is never brought into the public sphere? Brewster Kahle understood the fallibility on certain archives, but he missed an ocean of classified data out of reach. Cryptome believes in radical transparency in a way the Archive never could, or possibly should, yet we need more Cryptome’s for the Archive to work.
Founded by architects John Young and Deborah Natsios in 1996, Cryptome publically hosts over 70,000 classified, sensitive, and generally secretive documents. Just as the Archive’s bots scrape as much as they can, Cryptome will publish anything and everything they get their hands on; they do not verify, they do not consider possible impacts of publication, and they do not consider the legal implications of publication. They. Publish. Everything. Cryptome’s website states:
Cryptome welcomes documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance—open, secret and classified documents.