Wayback Machine needs to refuse to remove archived government websites


The Internet Archive hosts the Wayback Machine, the largest archive of copies of websites over time. Currently, the Wayback Machine has over 279,000,000,000 web pages archived. A cursory search gives the impression that tens of millions of these are from .gov (government) websites and millions more are from .mil (military) websites. These include statements, government documents, press releases, and a huge cache of government information – including FOIA reading rooms. But they’re all in danger of disappearing.

One of the points Russ Kick raised in the inaugural episode of my podcast was the danger of losing information from the Internet Archive under the Trump administration. While the Internet Archive is already taking steps to prevent this, including a full backup in Canada and beyond U.S. court orders, the Wayback Machine is still highly susceptible to automated removal requests for the Wayback Machine. These requests could automatically delete every copy of every archived page on a government or military domain. In every other instance, this policy is understandable and somewhat commendable. It allows private websites to control some of the information that’s out there about them and to prevent certain directories (or entire websites) from being archived. It is, after all, private information subject to copyright.

The government websites, however, belong to the public. They are in the public domain, and the Internet Archive’s own standards would indicate that the Wayback Machine’s automated removal process for .gov and .mil websites should be disabled. The Internet Archive and Wayback Machine’s standard for government removal requests is that:

Archivists will exercise best-efforts compliance with applicable court orders. Beyond that, as noted in the Library Bill of Rights, ‘Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.’

By this standard, the Wayback Machine should immediately disable the automated removal process for all .gov and .mil websites. This will ensure that the information is not lost without a legally enforceable court order, or at least all good judgment. By eliminating the potential for automatic deletion of information the government has released to the public, the Internet Archive can prevent mass government censorship and the loss of public information.

Please reach out to the Internet Archive and ask them to disable the automatic removal for .gov and .mil websites.