Any journalist using the Internet Archive for investigative purposes should heave a sigh of relief today.
The FBI have retracted a secret demand for information on users of the service, after a US Court ruled this area of The Patriot Act unconstitutional.
The archive is an amazingly useful research tool – while the ‘cache’ option under Google results offers you a snapshot of webpages up to a couple of months old, the archive, a non-profit Internet Library, has been capturing and archiving web content since 1996.
It can serve many purposes – for historians, lawyers, web developers, investigative researchers, right the way through to members of the public who miss a website which doesn’t exist anymore.
Does anyone remember Britain’s short-lived equivalent of The Onion, The Brains Trust? This is what the home page looks like now that they’ve gone out of business and shut up shop – but here is what it used to look like back in January 2003.
These days, in the Advanced search, you can even keyword search the archive, which is phenomenally helpful – it used to be the case that you could only search by url.
In terms of investigative research, this site has been used to track miscreants and do-badders, to check on plagiarism, and for holding public and private bodies to account over previously published documents.
I’ve used it myself a few times to good effect. When putting together a lecture on succesful online hoaxes in the media, I found a number of hoaxes had gone out of commission, and were only obtainable via the Internet Archive, like CheatingScum.com which fooled the Daily Mirror in 2001.
Anyway, bearing in mind the fate of some journalists who work in areas the US Government would rather they didn’t, this is a welcome result for freedom of the press.