When the Library of Alexandria burned, the world lost a significant portion of its cultural knowledge and history. That’s the fate that Brewster Kahle fears might await the Internet Archive under Donald Trump’s regime — and so he’s creating a backup of his renowned digital library in Canada.
Every election cycle, voters disappointed by the outcome joke about moving across the border. But backing up his collection of digitized books, newspapers, television broadcasts, and websites on a fresh set of Canadian servers isn’t a joke to Kahle — it’s an imperative.
“When the election went in an unexpected direction from what the polls were suggesting, we looked up in the Television Archive — because we have all of the campaign rallies and all the political rallies and everything — we looked up what was Trump’s position on the internet and freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” Kahle told TechCrunch.
“It’s, you know, dramatic,” he laughed. “At this point, I think you would be prudent to take the president-elect at his word.”
Trump has at times suggested closing off parts of the internet and expanding libel laws to pursue litigation against journalists, both of which Kahle thinks could have negative consequences for a digital library. The Internet Archive is blocked in China, and has been blocked previously in India and Russia. Creating a second copy of the archive could help preserve its contents if Trump decided he wanted something removed from it.
“It’s how you keep data safe; you make copies,” Kahle said. “The idea of keeping large-scale collections alive takes real work and interest in universal access to knowledge. That’s what we’re dedicated to help make happen and that, historically, is not the norm.”
Although press coverage of the Internet Archive’s Canada copy has made it seem as though Kahle woke up on Nov. 9 and spontaneously decided to move, the work in Canada has been underway for many years. The election of Trump has accelerated that work, but isn’t the sole inspiration for it.
“We were trying to go in this direction anyway and it just makes sense now,” Kahle explained. “The idea of expanding the number of collections available there, that’s the thing that changed.” The Internet Archive Canada has been working with partner libraries to digitize books for almost a decade, but the new project will involve setting up a complete copy of the San Francisco-based library’s data. Kahle estimates the project will cost around $5 million and is currently fundraising to cover the cost. Given the quantity of data that will be stored on the Canadian servers, Kahle considers it a bargain.
The data stored by the Internet Archive — which includes Trump’s presidential campaign websites from 2008 and 2012 as well as full text-searchable transcripts of his television interviews — is also crucial to fact-checking Trump, Kahle says. “We think we have work to do to try to stem the tide of fake news,” he said. “Let’s at least make it easy to cite what’s happened. At least make it easy to go and find these sorts of things.”