The Internet Archive, a digital library nonprofit that preserves billions of webpages for the historical record, is building a backup archive in Canada after the election of Donald Trump. Today, it began collecting donations for the Internet Archive of Canada, intended to create a copy of the archive outside the United States.
“On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change,” writes founder Brewster Kahle. “It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change. For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It means preparing for a web that may face greater restrictions. It means serving patrons in a world in which government surveillance is not going away; indeed it looks like it will increase.”
The San Francisco-based Internet Archive is comprised of several different preservation efforts, spanning nearly every medium. As of 2012, the entire archive held 10 petabytes of data; for reference, Facebook’s entire photo and video collection totaled 100 petabytes around the same time. Alongside films and books, the archive holds thousands of early software programs and video games that can be emulated on modern systems. It’s particularly known for the Wayback Machine, which continuously crawls the web to archive pages over the course of decades.
The Internet Archive provides some of the most comprehensive preservation of our digital ephemera, for both intellectual study and practical use — including journalistic fact checking. Kahle estimates it will cost “millions” of dollars to host a copy of the Internet Archive in Canada, but it would shield its data from some American legal action.
The future of privacy and surveillance under the Trump administration remains unpredictable, but the president-elect has shown support for greater law enforcement surveillance powers and legal censorship, including “closing that internet up in some ways” to fight terrorism. “Somebody will say, 'Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.' These are foolish people,” he said in a 2015 speech. (This morning, he also suggested that burning the American flag — a constitutionally protected action — should be punished by loss of citizenship.)
Kahle notes that moving the internet archive would both insulate it from efforts to take down specific content, and make it harder to request data on user activity — something that more traditional librarians fought when American surveillance powers expanded under George W. Bush. And whatever happens, a Canadian copy would create more redundancy for data that can be seemingly ubiquitous but deceptively fragile. “The history of libraries is one of loss,” writes Kahle. “The Library of Alexandria is best known for is disappearance.”