A new Bodleian archive of 5 million UK websites has been criticised by privacy campaigners and civil rights groups. The Bod, in association with the British Library and five other libraries from across the country, announced its participation in the Internet Archive scheme earlier in April. Over 1 billion webpages are in the process of being permanently archived by the Library to snapshot the nation’s ‘digital memory’.
Some privacy campaigners have now voiced concerns about the project’s implications. Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, warned that social media users were at risk of inadvertent exposure, opining, “While the archive cannot access private or password-protected websites, many people might not realise that what they upload to the public web would be enshrined forever.”
He told Cherwell, “The danger of unintended consequences is magnified by how wide they’ve cast the net.”
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, pointed out that the main issue was with websites who failed to make their privacy policies clear to users. He told the BBC, “My concern is that a lot of Facebook comments are public and people don’t realise they’re publishing to the world. That’s Facebook’s fault, not the British Library’s – their user settings need to be changed in line with people’s expectations.”
The archive cuold eventually contain every public tweet or Facebook post in the British web domain, as it moves to comply with an Act of Parliament passed over 10 years ago. The regulations, known as legal deposit, ensure that ephemeral materials like websites can be collected and preserved forever.
Information hidden behind privacy walls on sites such as Facebook, eBay and Amazon will not be recorded. The archive will be limited to pages in the UK web domain and will offer a takedown procedure to remove content that has been mistakenly trawled.
For centuries the Bodleian has kept a copy of every book, pamphlet, magazine and newspaper published in the UK as part of a process known
as legal deposit. New regulations from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport mean that the Bodleian’s participation in the archive scheme is compulsory.
Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian, said that the project “will provide future researchers with access to information which otherwise would have been lost and which can contribute to understanding such diverse experiences as the Olympics and nutrition and taste in school dinners.”
Some say that the project was long overdue. Without the archive many researchers fear a massive ‘digital black-hole’ in UK history may hinder
the investigations of scholars. Ben Sanderson from the British Library
said we had already lost a lot, such as “the material that was posted by the
public during the 7/7 bombings.”
One second-year Hertford historian praised the scheme saying, “You can’t really understand the early 21st century without the Internet… We need to realise as a society that things put up on the Internet are there for everyone to see, perhaps now forever.”
The archive process will take three months, with another two months to process the data. The data will be available in Bodleian reading rooms.