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UK’s Conservative party deletes archive of speeches from internet

The Guardian wrote yesterday, “Conservative party deletes archive of speeches from internet.” The Conservative Party has attempted to delete from their website — as well as from the Internet Archive! — all their speeches and press releases online from the past 10 years, including one in which David Cameron promises to use the Internet to make politicians ‘more accountable’.

This is troubling news, but something as old as politicians — see for example ALA’s long-running serial “Less access to less information by and about the US government” which ran from 1981 – 1998. But it should also come as yet another warning to librarians and archivists of the dire need to harvest and preserve government information and store content off of .gov servers.

The party has removed the archive from its public website, erasing records of speeches and press releases from 2000 until May 2010. The effect will be to remove any speeches and articles during the Tories’ modernisation period, including its commitment to spend the same as a Labour government.

The Labour MP Sheila Gilmore accused the party of a cynical stunt, adding: “It will take more than David Cameron pressing delete to make people forget about his broken promises and failure to stand up for anyone beyond a privileged few.”

In a remarkable step the party has also blocked access to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, a US-based library that captures webpages for future generations, using a software robot that directs search engines not to access the pages.

The Tory plan to conceal the shifting strands of policy by previous leaders may not work. The British Library points out it has been archiving the party’s website since 2004. Under a change in the copyright law, the library also downloaded 4.8m domains earlier this year – in effect, anything on the web with a .co.uk address – and says although the Conservative pages use a .com suffix they will be added to the store “as it is firmly within scope of the material we have a duty to archive”. But the British Library archive will only be accessible from terminals in its building, raising questions over the Tory commitment to transparency.

Computer Weekly, which broke the story, pointed out that among the speeches removed were several where senior party members promised, if elected, to use the internet to make politicians accountable.

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2 Comments

  1. I was so pleased to see a success story of a national library with a web-archiving policy that is thwarting an attempt to scrub political information from the web!

    The British Library points out it has been archiving the party’s website since 2004…

    But equally disappointed (and confused) by the access policy of that library!

    But the British Library archive will only be accessible from terminals in its building…

    This, along with the limitations of web archiving (what do you choose to harvest and how do you identify everything of relevance [see above “.com” vs. “co.uk” and the use of robots.txt files] and the difficulties of archiving the programmable web: Can we rely on trying to ‘harvest’ the web?), reinforce the idea that libraries have to get information actively the way we got books, not passively by trying to capture an ever-changing stream of “content.” To do this, librarians are going to have to work with technologists and publishers and web-activists to change the way “content creators” think about producing content. This is no easy task, but it is essential if we think we can preserve information for the long term.

    GPO understands this (as do many others). GPO has largely switched from a stream-approach to an approach that instantiates information in XML for the long term.

  2. I just got contacted by an SEO outfit working for the British Library. I’ve updated the post to include links to the British Library and to their Web archive of Conservative videos. Here’s the top level of the British Library Web Archive http://www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/. It’s remarkably hard to find on their site.

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