Memory of the world

The fact that UNESCO will be holding its International Conference: “Memory of the World in the Digital Age: Digitization and Preservation” in Vancouver (Canada), Sept. 26 – 28, 2012 was one of the many snippets of information that Luciana Duranti, Chair and Professor at the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia, passed on during her talk on Thursday, May 17, 2012 in Vancouver.

Organized by ARPICO (Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals in Western Canada), Duranti’s talk Trust and Authenticity in the Digital Environment: An Increasingly Cloudy Issue, first delved into definitions of trust, authenticity and cloud computing before focusing on the issues presented by storing our data on the  ‘cloud’. As Duranti noted, this is a return, of sorts, to the 60s and its mainframe environment.  However, unlike the 60s our data is not stored on one server, it may be split amongst many servers in many countries making our data quite vulnerable. For example, different laws in different countries means you can lose data if the legal situation changes as it did in the US recently.  According to Duranti (as best as I can recall), one of Megaupload’s servers has been shut down in the state of Virginia because of a problem with data from one business. Unfortunately, all of the data held there was also destroyed.

On investigating this further, I found a more general discussion of the situation with Megaupload on Techdirt (May 1, 2012 posting by Mike Masnick) which highlights law professor Eric Goldman’s extraordinary indictment of the government’s action in his April 20, 2012 posting, excerpt of 2nd point,

2) Taking Megaupload offline. Megaupload’s website is analogous to a printing press that constantly published new content. Under our Constitution, the government can’t simply shut down a printing press, but that’s basically what our government did when it turned Megaupload off and seized all of the assets. Not surprisingly, shutting down a printing press suppresses countless legitimate content publications by legitimate users of Megaupload. Surprisingly (shockingly, even), the government apparently doesn’t care about this “collateral,” entirely foreseeable and deeply unconstitutional effect. The government’s further insistence that all user data, even legitimate data, should be destroyed is even more shocking. Destroying the evidence not only screws over the legitimate users, but it may make it impossible for Megaupload to mount a proper defense. It’s depressing our government isn’t above such cheap tricks in its zeal to win.

As Masnick notes on Techdirt,

The more we hear and see about the government’s case against Megaupload, it really appears that the government was relying almost entirely on the fact that Megaupload looked bad. It’s hard to deny that there were plenty of things that Kim (in particular) [CEO Kim Dotcom] did that makes him appear pretty obnoxious. But being a crass showoff doesn’t automatically make you a criminal.

The Jan. 19, 2012 article by Nate Anderson for Ars Technica seems more sympathetic to the government’s position, initially,

The US government dropped a nuclear bomb on “cyberlocker” site Megaupload today, seizing its domain names, grabbing $50 million in assets, and getting New Zealand police to arrest four of the site’s key employees, including enigmatic founder Kim Dotcom. In a 72-page indictment unsealed in a Virginia federal court, prosecutors charged that the site earned more than $175 million since its founding in 2005, most of it based on copyright infringement.

As for the site’s employees, they were paid lavishly and they spent lavishly. Even the graphic designer, 35-year-old Slovakian resident Julius Bencko, made more than $1 million in 2010 alone.

The indictment goes after six individuals, who between them owned 14 Mercedes-Benz automobiles with license plates such as “POLICE,” “MAFIA,” “V,” “STONED,” “CEO,” “HACKER,” GOOD,” “EVIL,” and—perhaps presciently—”GUILTY.” The group also had a 2010 Maserati, a 2008 Rolls-Royce, and a 1989 Lamborghini. They had not one but three Samsung 83″ TVs, and two Sharp 108″ TVs. Someone owned a “Predator statue.” …

Yet the indictment seems odd in some ways. When Viacom made many of the same charges against YouTube, it didn’t go to the government and try to get Eric Schmidt or Chad Hurley arrested.

Anderson mentions that Megaupload had 525 servers in Virginia state and many more around the world. (I’m not sure why Duranti stated that one server had been shut down in Virginia but perhaps she was using it as an example to demonstrate what happens when just one server is shut down.) Regardless of whether it’s one server or 525 , I’m with Eric Goldman when he points out that destroying legitimate data is shocking.

Duranti’s talk was illuminating and I look forward to hearing more about these issues when the UNESCO conference takes place here in Vancouver next September. From the conference news webpage,

Digital information has economic value as a cultural product and as a source of knowledge. It plays a major role in national sustainable development as, increasingly, personal, governmental and commercial information is created in digital form only. But digitized national assets also constitute an immense wealth of the countries concerned and of society at large. The disappearance of this heritage will engender economic and cultural impoverishment and hamper the advancement of knowledge.

Ensuring digital continuity of content can only be overcome if a range of legal, technological, social, financial, political and other obstacles are addressed. The Vancouver Conference therefore seeks to achieve:

  • the launch of specific initiatives related to digital preservation and to the fostering of access to documentary heritage through digitization;
  • the revision of the UNESCO Charter on the Preservation of Digital Heritage;
  • the identification of the legal frameworks and solutions to facilitate long-term digital preservation;
  • the agreement on the promotion and/or development of exchange standards;
  • the definition of the respective roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders and elaboration of a cooperation model.

I have mentioned Duranti and issues relating to digitization and archives before (March 8, 2012 posting: Digital disaster).

2 thoughts on “Memory of the world

  1. Pingback: Scant detail about Sandia Labs’ nanoscientist and federal fraud charges « FrogHeart

  2. Pingback: Memories, science, archiving, and authenticity « FrogHeart

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