The Wayback Machine and More From Brewster Kahle

Really nice 2-page spread on Brewster Kahle, “The internet’s librarian,”  in this week’s issue of The Economist.

The Economist

March 7th – 13th 2009

Technology Quarterly insert

Brain scan

The internet’s librarian

Brewster Kahle wants to create a free, online collection of human knowledge.  It sounds impossibly idealistic — but he is making progress

It is easy to dismiss Mr. Kahle as an idealist, but he has an impressive record of getting things done.

I have used the Wayback machine — i.e., The Internet Archive — to find needed documents that were not otherwise available online anymore.  And apparently I’m not the only one:

The most famous part of the archive is the Wayback Machine (its name inspired by the WABAC machine in the 50-year-old television cartoon featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle). This online attic of digital memorabilia stores copies of internet sites . . . Paul Courant, the dean of libraries at the University of Michigan, equates what the archive does for the internet with what the British Museum did for the British empire. . . . The Wayback Machine “gives us access to what people were producing at different points in time,” he says.  Evidentially this is of more than just academic interest: the site gets 500 page requests per second.

The article also discusses “Mr. Kahle’s wider goal:

to build the world’s largest digital library.  He has recruited 135 libraries worldwide to, the aim of which is to create a catalogue of every book ever published, with links to its full text where available. . . .

The article notes that “this activist for online privacy is also a staunch supporter of openness” and details efforts and litigation Mr. Kahle has been involved with.

Government Data Mining

Government Data Mining


FRED H. CATE, Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington


Government data mining is widespread and expanding. A 2004 report by the General Accounting Office found 42 federal departments – including every cabinet-level agency that responded to the GAO’s survey – engaged in, or were planning to engage in, 122 data mining efforts involving personal information. Thirty-six of those involve accessing data from the private sector; 46 involve sharing data among federal agencies.

These programs present vexing legal and policy issues about the government’s access to, and use of, personal information, especially when that information is obtained from the private sector or another government agency or when it concerns individuals who have done nothing to warrant suspicion. Surprisingly, many of these issues have not yet been addressed by statutes or judicial decisions, or the applicable law is uncertain or unclear.

This paper examines the technological and geopolitical factors that have raised – and complicated – this question, and helped to render existing law inadequate. It describes that law and the legal and other issues posed by data mining, but not resolved by existing law. The paper includes a summary of the recommendations of the DOD Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee – the most recent word on the subject – which are currently under consideration by Congress and the Secretary of Defense.


Source: LSN Information Privacy Law Vol. 1 No. 12,  08/26/2008

New information privacy law articles

From LSN Information Privacy Law Vol. 1 No. 8,  08/05/2008:

Consumer Information Sharing: Where the Sun Still Don’t Shine

CHRIS JAY HOOFNAGLE, University of California, Berkeley – School of Law – Berkeley Center for Law & Technology

In late 2007, the popular social networking site adopted “Beacon,” an application that informs Facebook users’ friends about purchases made and activities on other websites. For example, if a Facebook user bought a movie ticket on, that user’s friends would be informed of that fact through a news “feed” on Facebook. Some users objected vigorously to the Beacon application, because their activities were reported on an opt-out basis, meaning that the user had to take affirmative action to prevent others from learning about their activities. An activism website,, organized a protest, calling users to action by asking, “When you buy a book or movie online – do you want that information automatically shared with the world on Facebook?” Facebook responded to these critiques by changing its policy to obtain express approval before activities on other sites would be shared with friends.

The Facebook folly demonstrates how intensely consumers reject the “sharing” of personal information for marketing purposes. In this instance, consumers learned of Facebook’s strategy because it was transparent and obvious to the individual. But what most do not realize is that, in the absence of a specific law prohibiting information sharing, businesses are generally free to monetize their customer databases by selling, renting, or trading them to others. In fact, the sale of customer information is a common, albeit opaque practice that, if disclosed at all, is usually mentioned in a “privacy policy.” Facebook’s Beacon simply made information sharing obvious to users.

Studies have shown that most consumers oppose the sale of personal information. Unfortunately, most consumers are under the misimpression that a company with a “privacy policy” is barred from selling data. To learn more about information selling, the authors, using a California privacy law, made requests to 86 companies for a disclosure of information sharing practices. The results show that while many companies have voluntarily adopted a policy of not sharing personal information with third parties, many still operate under an opt-out model that is inconsistent with consumer expectations, and others simply did not respond to the request. Based on these results, the authors propose several public policy approaches to bringing business practices in information sharing in line with consumer expectations.


Privacy Protection and the Right to Information: In Search of a New Symbiosis in the Information Age
CYBERLAW, SECURITY & PRIVACY, S.M. Kierkegaard, eds., International Association of IT Lawyers, pp. 201-212, 2007

PIETER KLEVE, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) – Centre for Computers and Law

RICHARD V. DE MULDER, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) – Centre for Computers and Law

JENNIFER KING, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, University of California, Berkeley – School of Law

The dichotomy between personal privacy and free access to information, which has come increasingly to the fore with the advance of information technology, justifies a reconsideration of these traditional values and interests. In this article, it is contended that privacy, as a constitutional right, is subject to changing norms as a result of the advent of the information society. In today’s information society, citizens weigh the importance of protecting privacy against the advantages of free access to information. The criterion they use is a rational one: an evaluation of which option provides the individual with the most benefit. The protection of privacy is no longer an unconditional good. For state organisations to champion privacy at any cost is, therefore, out of step with this development. A new balance has to be established between the citizen’s right to privacy and their right to know, taking into account this shift in values. In order to prevent on the one hand overzealous protection and, on the other, the abuse of information, it is necessary to set up the monitoring function in a new way.

Harvard’s law library director (again) in the news

From the Boston Globe:  “Stopping Google – With one company now the world’s chief gateway to information, some critics are hatching ways to fight its influence,” by By Drake Bennett (June 22, 2008).

Google may be widely admired for its technical wizardry and its quick, accurate search engine, but one of the company’s most impressive accomplishments has been its ability to grow as powerful as it is while still remaining, in the minds of most Americans, fundamentally likable. . . And even privacy protections, points out John Palfrey, executive director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, can have their costs, making search engines themselves less efficient and making it harder to gather information about criminals and terrorists.


Source:  HLS’s News@Law — Week of June 23, 2008

What Google Knows: Privacy and Internet Search Engines

This blogging is fun.  One aspect I enjoy is reading the search terms that people used to find our content.  Some recent search terms were: international legal research, atms for books, “advanced legal research” ideas,, espresso book machine, greenversations, detroit mercy law school, bloomberg law citator, “bloomberg law citator,” and google books.  But I cannot tell who out there used these search phrases.  But Google knows, and that raises concerns, as this working paper indicates.

What Google Knows: Privacy and Internet Search Engines

OMER TENE, College of Management – School of Law, Israel

Search engines are the most important phenomenon on the Internet today and Google is the gold standard of search. Google evokes ambivalent feelings. It is adored for its ingenuity, simple, modest-looking interface and superb services offered at no (evident) cost. Yet increasingly, it is feared by privacy advocates who view it as a private sector big brother posing perhaps the biggest privacy problem of all times. Google is an informational gatekeeper harboring previously unimaginable riches of personal data. Billions of search queries stream across Google’s servers each month, the aggregate thoughtstream of humankind, online. Google compiles individual search logs, containing information about users’ fears and expectations, interests and passions, and ripe with information that is financial, medical, sexual, political, in short – personal in nature. How did Google evolve from being a benevolent giant seeking to do no evil into a privacy menace reviled by human rights advocates worldwide? Are the fears of Google’s omniscient presence justified or overstated? What personal data should Google be allowed to retain and for how long? What rules should govern access to Google’s database? What are the legal protections currently in place and are they sufficient to quell the emerging privacy crisis? These are the main issues addressed in this article.


Source: LSN Information Privacy Law Vol. 1 No. 2,  06/10/2008