On December 17, 2016 The Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto hosted a Guerrilla Archiving Event to preserve American environmental data in preparation for the incoming President. There was concern leading up to the inauguration that the new administration under Trump would be hostile to evidence based environmental studies. I had the pleasure of connecting with two integral pieces of the event, Patrick Keilty and Sam-Chin Li to discuss their roles in preserving environmental data that may have been lost.
The event, which took place on a Saturday afternoon in the Faculty’s Library, the Inforum, brought together people from various academic backgrounds concerned about the deletion of environmental data. Coders, environmental scientists, librarians and information professionals, as well as a number of volunteers gathered to participate in a hack-a-thon to save data from the EPA.
Initially participants highlighted all vulnerable programs and data on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website for safekeeping. Then, those volunteers who were more technically skilled conducted web crawls, scraping that data and sending it to the Internet Archive’s End of Term Project. By the end of the day, thousands of URLs were sent to the Internet Archive including 192 at-risk programs and data sets. This event gained national and even worldwide recognition bringing attention to the concept of ‘guerrilla archiving’ and have encouraged many people to get involved.
“Guerrilla Archiving” is a relatively new term and essentially refers to archiving things that are political in nature. Patrick Keilty, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto (UofT) and one of the main organizers of the December event, believes that guerrilla archiving actions are inherently activist in nature and involve a grassroots element. Keilty notes however, that the procedures of guerilla archiving can vary, “There is normally not a found process for archiving the things we focused on. With the EPA, data would normally be subjected to a standard internet crawl but the fear is that some data, like that contained in spreadsheets, would be missed.”
Sam-Chin Li, the Reference/Government Publications Librarian at U of T and one of the event’s facilitators noted that, “Content on the Web is continually being updated, replaced, or lost so it is important to ensure the continued ability to access valuable content like government information, political candidates’ campaign websites and etc.” Guerrilla archiving is not just limited to the protection of data from the EPA but any organization where there is a real concern over data being lost.
Interested in getting involved? If so, check out the Environmental Data Governance Initiative (EDGI), which grew out of the Guerrilla Archiving Event at UofT. The EDGI contains resources, ways to participate, a digital toolkit, and a calendar of upcoming events. “While technical skills like knowledge of coding, are an asset they are not necessary,” Keilty explained. Above all else, research skills are desired. Knowing what to look for, what’s important to preserve, and what might be missed by standard web crawls is just as, if not more important, that having technical skills. Keilty’s advice, “Archive information you know about, or are passionate about.” If Canadian contexts on the subject spark your interest, be sure to check out the Erasure of Information post by Bryan Short.
Canadian scientists and academics are helping to secure endangered data in the United States.
Using lessons learned under Stephen Harper and the Conservative party’s administration—which saw the vast suppression of scientific communication and the destruction of data archives—Canadian scientists and academics are helping their neighbours to the south.
The new threat to information comes from Donald Trump and the Republican party’s administration in the United States. In an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadian scientists and academics write that “all life on earth now depends on maintaining efforts in environmental and related sciences.”
The Foreign Situation
University of Victoria environmental law professor, Chris Tollefson, says that the Trump administration poses a real risk the open scientific communication and is actively deleting scientific data, which “will undermine years of research in various areas.”
On President Trump’s Inauguration Day, the White House’s information page on climate change was deleted from the web and replaced with a statement about eliminating “harmful and unnecessary policies.”
The Canadian Context
This isn’t so different than what happened in Canada under Harper. The term libricide was invented to describe the destruction of invaluable data archives. Scientists were also unable to freely speak about their research without approval from government communication personnel.
A 2013 report called The Big Chill, reported the results of a survey that illustrated to the extreme nature of censorship under the Harper administration. According to Hakai magazine, nearly nine out of ten federal scientists said “that they couldn’t share their concerns about public safety or the environment without censure or retaliation.”
Gizmodo calls the situation in the United States “eerily reminiscent of attempts to suppress science in Canada during Stephen Harper’s tenure as Prime Minister.”
The the major concerns facing science in the United States are:
- Donald Trump’s anti-vaccination views
- Donald Trump denial of climate change (and temporarily banning all Environmental Protection Agency staff from talking with the media)
- And Donald Trump’s further measures to control scientific research and communications
Scott Dallimore, a Natural Resources Canada research scientists, says that the persistence of the Canadian media reporting on the issue of the muzzling of scientists in Canada helped to turn the tide in the 2015 Federal Election, which Harper’s Conservatives lost by a significant margin to Trudeau’s Liberals.
Michael Rennie, a former Canadian government scientist and current professor, has a blog called UnmuzzledScience that offers advice to scientists in the United States.
His major tips:
- Continue to educate the public, even if you need to do so anonymously
- Engage in collaborations across universities and preserve copies of data
- And get a personal email address
Encouragingly, a lot of this work has already begun. Check out Katie’s blog post about how Canadian academics are using a tactic called guerrilla archiving to preserve scientific data.
What do you think?
Do you see a threat to science in these examples of government intervention? How might the impact extend beyond science?
Let us know in the comments below.
The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto
It’s not everyday that an edgy, youth-focused, and (amazingly) growing media organization names a professor of political science one of their “humans of the year,” but this is exactly what happened for Ron Deibert. Motherboard, the science and technology section of Vice, has added Deibert into their ongoing series because of his work with Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. The team at Citizen Lab are exposing the most sophisticated digital surveillance and hacking techniques that are being used by governments around the world. They’re also the feature of a film called Black Code, which is based on a book by Deibert of the same name. The film will be premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival on April 6th, 2017.
Silicon Valley Moving North?
Amid speculation that President Trump might be issuing an executive order that modifies H-1B work visas, technology companies in the Silicon Valley and beyond are looking at Vancouver as a possible destination for their affected employees. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon already have offices in Canada, and Bloomberg reports that they’re already placing staff in these offices while they wait for American visas to be issued. An open letter from the Canadian technology sector, urging Canada to offer immediate entry visas to those impacted by the potential executive order, has been signed by over 3,400 members of the community.
The Right to be Forgotten in Canada
Michael Geist, a leading Canadian technology and legal scholar, has observed that a Federal Court decision might allow courts to order Google to remove items from its search results. The European Union adopted the right to be forgotten in 2014, which allows citizens to request that information about them be removed from Google and Bing search results. Since it was enacted, Google has received over 700,000 requests to have personal information removed. The Canadian case, Geist says, involves a Romanian website that downloaded thousands of Canadian judicial decisions from CanLII (a free database that is not indexed by Google) and posted on them in a way that made them appear in Google’s search results. The Romanian website then asks for a fee for expedited removal of the information. Geist writes that the courts have been arguing over if they have jurisdiction over the foreign site, which uses Canadian content and primarily affects Canadian citizens. The new decision suggests that a request could be sent to Google to remove the offending content from their search results, although Google is not required to act. But if they do, Geist writes, then: [T]he court may have created the equivalent of a Canadian right to be forgotten and opened up an important debate on the jurisdictional reach of privacy law as well as on striking the balance between privacy and freedom of expression.”
Two UBC students talk about how they use Connect and then watch a video that explains how Connect collects student data and generates reports that instructors can view. They express concerns about how this data is collected and about the affect that it may have on their grades. Overall, they believe that a more transparent framework needs to be established because of the potential impact of this data collection.
What do you think?
How do you feel about your data being used in a way that may impact your grades and that you may not have been aware of? Let us know in the comments.
The Blog Series
The Connect Exposed blog series documents my inquest into data collection on Blackboard Connect, the difficult process of obtaining my data from UBC, and privacy concerns around the collection of student information.
How many times a day do applications on your phone ask to be allowed to access your location. Do you leave your location GPS on all the time? Do you know how to turn it off?
If you’re not concerned with how companies like Google having access to your location, consider that with that information they can track your every move and know where you, or at least your phone is, at any given moment.
Why does it matter?
Having a GPS system embedded into phones is something that we’ve grown accustomed to and even rely on. In an unfamiliar location there is peace of mind knowing that we can always look up directions if we get lost somewhere along the way.
Leaving location services on all the time however can make you more open to risks. Just think, geolocation data can reveal intimate details about people’s lives; everywhere that you visit with your phone becomes accessible and companies can sell this data revealing information about consumers’ religious affiliations, medical conditions, and more. Geotagging photos and selfies may seem like an easy way to let friends know where you are, but for victims of online harassment or stalking, you are also putting yourself and anyone else in a photo with you at risk.
What can I do?
As a first step, it’s recommended that you disable location services on your phone. Here are step-by-step guides on how to do this for iOS or Android phones. When specific apps ask for location access think critically about why they app need to know your location? If you’re lost and pulling up a map on your phone or trying to figure out if it’s going to rain that day, letting your phone access your location for GPS accuracy makes sense. If you can’t find a good reason for why an application would need access to your location then maybe think twice before allowing it to do so.