Protecting US Environmental Websites & Data From Trump

By Roy L Hales


North America’s academic community is taking President-elect Donald Trump’s threats to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seriously.  Crucial scientific data could disappear, or be made less accessible. There are only five weeks left until he takes office.  So this morning, at 10 a.m. Eastern Time, researchers at University of Toronto (U of T) began protecting US environmental websites & data from Trump and his transition team.

Protecting US Environmental Websites & Data From Trump

University of Toronto by Feline Groovy via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

Michelle Murphy, director of U of T’s Technoscience Research Unit, told the Toronto Star:“We know that climate change is one of the things that they have been explicit about but they also are very explicit about wanting to make less regulation. . . for things like fracking, for things like pipelines. So we expect that there will be not only moves to collect less data relative to those kinds of projects but also to make it more difficult for communities to access the data that would help them organize around the environmental effects of those kinds of projects.”

To which Matt Price, lecturer at the Faculty of Information adds, “There is a time urgency to the project of preserving publicly available data. While the new administration may not directly delete data, it takes funding, personnel and effort to maintain publicly available data. So one of the ways data may become less accessible is by starving its maintenance of resources.”

On the Guerrilla Archiving facebook page, Murphy explained that U of T’s activities are a collaboration with the Internet Archive.

“Statements by Trump on the campaign trail have ramped us into higher gear, moving us further and faster than we would have. The election led us to think bigger,” wrote Brewster Kahle, Founder & Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive,

On November 29, she announced that  her organization was building the “Internet Archive of Canada” to safeguard the United State’s threatened data.

They estimate it will cost approximately $5 million U.S. to accomplish, “But we can take steps in this direction with less.”

Not too long ago, Nick Santos from UC Davis would have called this “a little paranoid.” Now he is one of the academics spending their weekend copying and pasting government climate data onto the new website.

Patricia Kim, a graduate fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, is another participant at this week-ends event.

Her university has also launched its’ own #DATAREFUGE, and is asking for volunteers.

In addition, “The Library of Congress, California Digital Library, University of North Texas Libraries, Internet Archive, George Washington University Libraries, Stanford University Libraries, and the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) are leading a collaborative project to harvest and preserve public U.S. Government websites at the conclusion of the current Presidential administration ending on January 20, 2017.”

During The Harper Regime In Canada

Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper By World Economic Forum via Wikipedia
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper By World Economic Forum via Wikipedia

“We know this is important to do because of the lessons learned from what happened to environmental research and public access to data during the Harper administration here in Canada,” said Murphy.

In 2012, the word “environment” disappeared  from a section of Transport Canada’s website describing  the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

When the Canadian government announced plans to consolidate 1,500 government websites into one, academics preserved threatened data on the Internet Archive.

How The Event Will Proceed

U of T’s Patrick Keilty explains how this week-ends guerilla archiving event will proceed:

“First, we need to identify vulnerable programs and then seed their URLs to the webcrawler of the End of Term project, which will make copies of those webpages. Second, we are researching and evaluating the many data repositories that the EPA has online: some of this data we know will be backed up and protected by laws, some data will be archivable at the Internet Archive through their webcrawler, and yet other sources of data will need to identified as in need of saving at a library. Libraries, such as at the University of Pennsylvania, are arranging to become repositories of this kind of vulnerable data not easily preserved. We will be passing on what we build and research to our colleagues in other cities so that they can pick up where we have left off.”

Top Photo Credit: Michelle Murphy, Matt Price and Patrick Keilty are part of the Faculty of Information – photo by Kathleen O’Brien