March 2, 2017 Last Updated 11:06 am

Content and data protection and publication becomes important public policy issue

‘It’s only been a couple of days, but we’re expecting for radical change to happen in terms of data availability online’

The idea and issue seemed a bit hyperbolic to some when they first heard it, the project by the Internet Archive to duplicate its collection of web pages in Canada in order to protect it from the incoming Trump administration.

But since then, the issue has only grown in importance.

Volunteers around the nation are participating in an effort to preserve scientific data that may be at risk of disappearing from government websites. An example of this would be Ann Arbor Data Rescue, organized by librarians and students at the University of Michigan.

“The goal of this project is to raise greater awareness about the fragility of government data and to assist in its preservation on a larger scale than is currently done,” said Justin Schell, the director of the Shapiro Design Lab at the university’s Library. “We’re also responding to concerns from faculty about specific kinds of important federal data that may disappear in the coming months.”

Data concerning climate change and other contentious issues is at the core of the data preservation efforts as the new Trump administration has said it plans to slash funding at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s only been a couple of days, but we’re expecting for radical change to happen in terms of data availability online,” Michelle Murphy, director of U of Toronto’s Technoscience Research Unit, told the Toronto Star shortly after the inauguration.

“We’re already seeing muzzling of scientists. We’re seeing the signals that they basically want to get rid of the research mission of the EPA.”

Already there are concerns that information the government has on Russian involvement in the presidential election may be at risk. It may be why, as The New York Times reported today, the Obama White House officials “scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government.”

“At the Obama White House, Mr. Trump’s statements stoked fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed — or its sources exposed — once power changed hands. What followed was a push to preserve the intelligence that underscored the deep anxiety with which the White House and American intelligence agencies had come to view the threat from Moscow,” the NYT said in its report.

Dissemination and publication protects content, vital data. It is, possibly, the best argument newspapers have in their battle with Republican controlled state governments to preserve the requirement that public notices be publishing in newspapers. Yes, that public notice revenue may be important to some smaller newspapers, but it is the act of publishing with a third party that encourages government transparency and data preservation.

“As a local and state government official, I want the public to have as much information as possible. It doesn’t matter if they gather their information from a government website or if they read it in the public notice section of the local newspaper,” said Rep. Todd Novak in a column today in the Green Bay Press Gazette.

“In many areas of the state, newspapers are the lifeblood of a community and sometimes the only convenient source of information. By allowing the electronic option, we are cutting off a source of information to our constituents, our taxpayers, and the people who hold us accountable. At this time, the savings obtained by not publishing notices does not outweigh the public’s right to know.”

Photo: “data” by CyberHades used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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