Obama’s Change.gov promise to protect whistleblowers? Scrubbed from the Web

Well, this pissed me off. Long-time readers of this site may recall my interest in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which aims to preserve the historical web. I’ve previously written to criticize the Bush administration for its lengthy robots.txt exclusion file (thousands of lines long), which could be viewed as an attempt to prevent the Wayback Machine and others from archiving portions of his White House website. I also wrote to compliment the new Obama White House website for its much shorter, and much more archive-friendly robots file.

But now the Obama administration is scrubbing the web, too. John Wonderlich at the Sunlight Foundation reports that materials from Obama’s old transition website at Change.gov have recently been deleted. Although the main page has referred users for a while to the Whitehouse.gov site, internal pages regarding his agenda were still online, and “until recently, you could still continue on to see the materials and agenda laid out by the administration.”

So why the change? Wonderlich speculates — and I think 100% correctly — that the internal Change.gov pages were removed due to broken and now inconvenient promises made in the transition team’s “Obama-Biden Plan” to protect whistleblowers. Considering the administration’s consistent actions in aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and others, the administration likely decided to scrub inconvenient promises it made during the transition period.

But in an era of permanent digital records (hello, NSA and its yottabytes of storage in Utah!), how can the Obama administration be so naïve as to think that somebody wouldn’t: 1) notice the missing pages; 2) find the old site; and 3) point it out? As a prosecutor might say, destroying evidence may be proof of a guilty conscience. The administration’s naïveté is positively striking, considering that Obama’s people are widely touted as being extremely tech-savvy.

See for yourself. In an Internet Archive capture of the Change.gov site from June 7, 2013 (barely a month ago), a page on ethics (!) in the Obama-Biden Plan promised to protect whistleblowers:

Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.

Here’s a screen cap. According to the Wayback Machine, this was still online as recently as June 7:


Post-Snowden, this is what you see today:

Untitled picture

The difference? No doubt it’s the Snowden affair, which broke in early June. A Google search of Change.gov for “whistleblowers” conducted today (screen cap here) shows no hits, so the page apparently has not been moved to another URL on the site. It simply seems to be gone.

Even more disturbingly, this may reflect a broader trend of digital scrubbing. Wonderlich notes that this is not the first time that Obama administration documents have disappeared from the internet. An earlier posting of his includes a letter the Sunlight Foundation and others sent to the Department of Labor criticizing the administration for removing materials. As the letter states, “No major administration decision should be accompanied by related materials disappearance from public view.”

HT Animal. Cross-posted to Infoglut Tumblr.

Random Twittery thoughts

The Twittered Inauguration. Though I doubt President Obama will twitter from the podium tomorrow, many others at the inauguration will post tweets, photos, and videos at what the NY Times is calling a “wireless Woodstock.”  Although wireless networks are adding extra capacity, they’re still asking people to try to limit their wireless use.  No shock if Twitter comes to a crashing halt at some point tomorrow.

Twitter as a news source. I like to Twitter, but mostly to aggregate links of personal interest.  But Twitter is increasingly emerging as a powerful source of breaking news.  I turned to it during the Gaza invasion as well as after the safe crash-landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549.  (The most fascinating pic was taken by Floridian Janis Krums and posted through Twitter.)  Though Twitter isn’t necessarily authoritative or reliable, it’s a great way of getting the pulse of what concerns people right now.

You’re in Steelers Twitter Country. One last twittery thought.  Being from the Steel City, no shock that I’m a big Steelers fan.  Go Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII! But I gotta say: last night’s AFC Championship game was a brutal and exhausting four-hour marathon.  As Peter King put it,”If I’ve ever been to a game with more intense hitting, I don’t remember it. This was primeval.”  Like the players on the field, I was seriously worried for Raven Willis McGahee, who was carted from the field after a hard hit from Ryan Clark.  Although it was a physical game, this is not what you ever want to see and I hope he’s ok.  Many others shared that thought, and last night, McGahee was one of the trending searches on Twitter.  I was happy to see many well-wishes for McGahee from Steelers as well as Ravens fans.

Change.gov and Open-Government.us: an open Web 2.0 approach to the Obama transition

A new website, Open-Government.us, proposes three “open transition” principles for President-elect Obama’s transition to the office of the President.  The site, set up by Lawrence Lessig and others, notes the importance of openness and accessibility for the transition process.  For example, although Obama’s Change.gov transition site is generally subject to a Creative Commons license, his videos are made available through his Transition Project YouTube account.  In turn, YouTube is a proprietary site that does not permit downloading of user content.  As noted in the principles, open government requires that citizens be able to copy, remix, and excerpt such materials unfettered from undue proprietary or format restraints.

Here’s a short explanatory video from http://open-government.us/:

Below the break is text with the three principles, also from http://open-government.us/:

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