Following the rabbit hole in this recent post on the imminent launch of the United Kingdom’s comprehensive web archive, I found myself again confronting a records deletion “scandal.” (A few notable others have been alluded to on this blog here and here.)
This particular scandal has a fairly unique angle. The “records” at issue are not governed by any compliance or statutory requirements, but rather documents willingly posted by their creators to the internet. The “deletion” is not necessarily destruction, but rather obfuscation. Computer Weekly explains the scenario:
The Conservative Party has been widely criticised today after Computer Weekly revealed it has removed all its pre-General Election speeches and news articles from its website and from all web search engines.
The Tories altered the Robots.txt file on their Conservatives.com site which instructs web crawlers such as Google about what content it is allowed to access. All news and speeches published on that website before May 2010 – the time of the last UK election – have effectively been erased from the web.
Whether or not this fits traditional ideas of either “records” or “destruction,” the backlash certainly raises a few questions: What is the “internet record”? And who owns it?