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Fwd: Report on London Online - Removal of items from the Web

  • To: Multiple recipients of list <epc-l@iucr.org>
  • Subject: Fwd: Report on London Online - Removal of items from the Web
  • From: Pete Strickland <ps@iucr.org>
  • Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2002 13:15:54 GMT

----------  Forwarded Message  ----------

Subject: Report on London Online - Removal of items from the Web
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2002 09:42:20 -0000
From: Barry Mahon <mahons1@EIRCOM.NET>

Hello All,

Just back from Online London, nice to see some of your there amd apologies if
 I missed others. In particular I missed Bonnie Lawlor the new Executive
 Director of NFAIS, good luck to her in her new post.

My general impression was that the show and conference had "reverted to form"
following a number of years where we had a wide range of exhibitors and
speakers from areas alongside the information sector. This year there was the
"usual suspects" and a few others, resulting in a more focussed affair.

I attended several sessions but the most interesting was that on scholarly
publication, which, as Sally Morris said 'didn't contain anything new' (from
 the viewpoint of thos already familiar with the topic) but did cover all the
 ground and showed that there is no doubt that there is fundamental change
 underway. However, it is my view we will have a number of methodologies of
 scientific information dissemination operating in parallel in the future,
 some paid for, some free.

On my return I found this item in my in-tray - it refers to items removed
 from US govt web sites in the interests of security. Since a number of ICSTI
 Member Organisations are mentioned I reproduce it here in full:

by Marylaine Block

More than any other country, our government has made a wealth of information
available to citizens on the web. But the dark side of  web-based information
 is the ease with which it can be deleted. Government-sponsored (which is to
 say, taxpayer-funded) information  and research   is disappearing from
 government web sites, much of it in the name of national security.

Chemical plant risk-management plans and airport safety data vanished from
 the Environmental Protection Administration's web site. The  Department of
 Energy removed environmental impact statements alerting local communities to
 potential dangers from nearby nuclear  energy plants, as well as and
 information on the transportation of hazardous materials.

The US Geological Service asked depository libraries to destroy a CD-ROM
database on surface water (and as a result, University of  Michigan
 researchers lost access to information vital to their three-year study of
 hazardous waste facilities  and community  activists could no longer access
 data on chemical plants that violate pollution laws).  A database of
 unclassified technical reports has been removed from the Los Alamos National
 Laboratory Web site.

The Defense Department removed over 6,000 documents from its web site. The
Nuclear Regulatory Commission shut down its entire web site   and brought it
back up again, scrubbed of anything considered potentially useful to
 terrorists. According to ALA, the Department of  Energy has removed  9,000 
 scientific research papers from national labs that contain keywords such as
 "nuclear" or "chemical" and "storage" and is reviewing them to see if they
 pose security risks. The Defense Technical Information Center has removed
 thousands of

But other information that has no relationship whatsoever with security
 issues is also vanishing, and there is some suspicion that an  ideology test
 is being applied.  The Centers for Disease Control removed reports from its
 web site on the effectiveness of condoms in  AIDS prevention and on
 effective programs for the prevention of tobacco use, pregnancy and sexually
 transmitted diseases among young  people. The National Cancer Institute 
 removed a report debunking the claim that abortions increase the risk of
 breast cancer. Health  and Human Services removed a research report that
 debunks the claim that abortions increase the likelihood of developing
 breast  cancer, and the Department of Education is, it says,  "reevaluating"
 hundreds of research reports available on its web site.

Furthermore, state governments are also removing data from public access.
Florida governor Jeb Bush signed measures closing public  access to
 information on hospital security plans and information on emergency
 stockpiles of pharmaceuticals. Florida lawmakers have  also proposed
 restricting access to information about cropdusters and about state
 investigations of food-borne illnesses.   Massachusetts legislators want to
 restrict access to records such as blueprints for the state's bridges,
 tunnels and airports.  Michigan and Tennessee legislators are considering
 barring access to state emergency response plans. In Oklahoma, among the
 sensitive  materials legislators are considering restricting are the times
 of school board meetings and the location of high pressure gas lines.

Now, it is possible to make an honorable case for all of these deletions of
 public information.  Maps revealing the location of gas  pipelines might
 very well be useful to terrorists, though it would be even more useful to
 potential buyers of farm land crossed by  those pipelines.  Information on
 safety flaws at chemical plants might indeed be useful to terrorists, but it
 would be even more  useful to emergency workers in nearby communities.
 Educational and medical research are always in need of updating, but then
 again,  the traditional way of doing it is to add new data rather than to
 erase the old.

The problem is that the previous presumption that publicly-funded information
should be available to the public has been replaced by  the presumption that
government gets to decide whether people should have the information or not.

Gary Bass, of OMB Watch, a private group which monitors government spending
and legislation, says "We are moving from a right to know  to a need to know
society." Where former Freedom of Information Act policy put the burden on
 the federal agencies to justify  withholding  documents requested under
 FOIA, Attorney General John Ashcroft's October 12, 2001 memo to federal
 agencies instructed  them to avoid releasing documents until after
 conducting a full review of any possible security implications of the

Isn't that convenient for government, given that the natural tendency for
government officials is toward secrecy?  And if you don't  believe that, see
 the Audits and Surveys of State Freedom of Information laws
<http://foi.missouri.edu/openrecseries.html>, which  reports on the project
 by a number of news agencies  to request public information from a variety
 of agencies in 19 states; they were  repeatedly forbidden access -- in
 Colorado, a third of the time local agencies failed to comply with state
 public records law, in Connecticut only 22% of agencies complied,  in
 Maryland requesters had only "a one-in-four chance of immediately getting
 what they  are looking for."

September 11 has become a blanket excuse for governments to conduct their
business as they prefer to do -- in private, suppressing all  kinds of
 information, whether or not is has even the most tangential relation to
 national security, and without any regard to valid  public information

Timothy Maier reports, in a story in the April 8 Insight Magazine, that "even
résumés of senior government officials are being  censored in some
 agencies... When reporter Todd Carter obtained resumes of EPA political
 appointees to post on the Natural Resources  News Service Website
<http://www.publicedcenter.org>, the EPA directed him not to post them
 because of privacy concerns. The EPA then  sent another batch of résumés
 that blacked out education levels, awards, affiliations and even job
 experience. When asked for the  return of the unredacted résumés, Carter
 refused and posted résumés on the news-service Website showing that EPA had
 brought in  former Enron employees"

More information will presumably disappear when some government agencies
cease to exist as their functions are folded into the new  Department of
 Homeland Security. Among the agencies slated for extinction are the US
 Immigration and Naturalization Service. Will  anybody in the reconstituted
 agency preserve those documents?  If not, I hope that the University of
 North Texas librarians who operate a "CyberCemetery" of the documents of
 defunct government agencies <http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/> will preserve
 these pages  as well

What's more, not only is there no government policy stipulating procedures
 and determinants for the deletion of data from government  web sites, no
 government agency, not even FirstGov.gov, can even tell you what has been
 deleted from what pages.

So who is keeping track  of deleted data? As you would expect, government
document librarians are monitoring the situation closely;  information on
 deletions and other threats to public information is available on the
 Government Documents Round Table web site
 <http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/GODORT/>. GODORT has also created a Task Force
 on Permanent Public Access to Government
Information <http://tigger.uic.edu/~tfontno/publicaccessindex.html>.

Other concerned groups include OMBWatch <http://ombwatch.org/>, which
monitors the deletion of government web pages, and the  Federation of
 American Scientists, which maintains a Project on Government Secrecy
<http://www.fas.org/sgp/>.   The Project's  director, Steven Aftergood,
 suggests that what we need is an oversight panel to review deletion
 decisions so that decisions to  withhold public information could not be
 made "by some anonymous agency official" without the possibility for the
 public to challenge  them."

It seems to me that GODORT is on the right track with its task force for
 permanent access to government documents, and there are  plenty of willing
 organizations it can partner with, but the job is too big for them.  There
 are just too many web documents to copy,  and thanks to OMB's dictum that
 federal agencies should ignore the Government Printing Office, even finding
 them will be a major challenge.

Librarians -- not just government documents librarians, but all of us -- are
 going to need to assume that information on government  web pages will
 disappear.  Just as librarians have worked cooperatively to make sure that
 last copies of printed works are not  allowed to vanish, we will need to act
 cooperatively, and quickly, to preserve information temporarily stored on
 government web  pages.

Because it's not THEIR information, and we can't let them get away with
 deleting it.   We paid for it, and we need it, if we're to  have any hope of
 knowing what our government is doing. It's OUR information.  Since giving
 people access to the information their  taxes paid for has always been our
 job, librarians are the ones who are going to have to take on this



Best wishes

Peter Strickland
Managing Editor
IUCr Journals

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