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Northern Pen - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages

Peo­ple say the In­ter­net never for­gets — and to an ex­tent, that’s true.

Post a pic­ture of your­self play­ing beer pong in a friend’s base­ment on your Face­book page — or worse, have a friend post a sim­i­lar pic­ture of you — and it’s re­mark­able how long it­er­a­tions of that photo might live on. Heck, your prospec­tive boss three jobs from now might be ask­ing why it looks like you’re wear­ing plas­tic moose horns and at­tempt­ing in­ter­course with a bronze statue in a pub­lic park.

But if you’re count­ing on the In­ter­net to be a com­plete li­brary of doc­u­ments — a per­ma­nent record — you may end up sur­prised, not by what’s there, but what isn’t.

Be­cause things can van­ish, es­pe­cially when they ex­ist on pri­vate web­sites.

Sure, doc­u­ments that are re­moved can of­ten have cached ver­sions that are still avail­able, but some­times, things like past elec­tion plat­forms for par­ties elected to govern just have a way of van­ish­ing from their re­spec­tive party web­sites. An­nual re­ports for Crown cor­po­ra­tions you are watch­ing go back for eight or nine years, but af­ter that, they seem to drop off the web pages with fair reg­u­lar­ity.

I know of at least one off- shore project where all of the en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view doc­u­men­ta­tion sim­ply dis­ap­peared, only to mag­i­cally re­turn when a jour­nal­ist started ask­ing ques­tions about it.

But re­vis­ing the In­ter­net’s his­tory can go much fur­ther.

This week in the House of Com­mons, that point was made even more clearly, as tabled doc­u­ments re­vealed that the gov­ern­ment of Justin Trudeau is do­ing some par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing era­sure.

From prac­ti­cally its very first day in of­fice, that gov­ern­ment’s Privy Coun­cil Of­fice has gone to Google to en­sure that web pages con­nected to for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper are re­moved from Google’s search in­dex. The pages may ex­ist — some­where — but the road map to find­ing them has been erased. Use the urls you can find in search browsers to try and reach things like past prime min­is­te­rial news re­leases, and you’ll get er­ror mes­sages.

Truth is, if you’re a pri­vate in­di­vid­ual who wants to re­move things — say, the news sto­ries about the time you were charged with an of­fence where the charges were dis­missed or you were found not guilty — you might find it’s a steep up­hill climb. But if you hold the keys to a par­tic­u­lar web page king­dom, you have far more op­tions.

It’s a shame. I’m re­ally fond of Ge­orge San­tanya’s say­ing, “Those who can­not re­mem­ber the past are con­demned to re­peat it.” But how ex­actly do you re­mem­ber the past, if there are those in the present make a dili­gent ef­fort to erase parts of it they just don’t like?

We have per­haps the great­est tool we’ve ever had to not only store huge vol­umes of in­for­ma­tion, but to also make it broadly pub­licly avail­able. Self-in­ter­ested edit­ing — rewrit­ing his­tory to suit — is both a mis­take and a dan­ger.

This may be the time of the pa­per­less cloud. But some­times, you’d bet­ter be keep­ing pa­per or off-line copies, too. Be­cause up there in the cloud, the weather can change.


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