back to article Australia considers national digital archive

Australia's Legal Deposit requirement, which compels publishers to send copies of all books to the National Library, may be extended to digital works. The potential extension of the Legal Deposit is discussed in a new Consultation Paper issued by the Federal Attorney General's Department. The current scheme is a decidedly pre …


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  1. Graham Wilson

    What on earth does the this mean?

    If one lives in Australia and posts to El Reg, does it mean that the poster will be forced to submit a copy to the digital archive? What is meant by online publishing anyway?

    If so, then it'll be a sham. Gone are the days when submitting to the national archive was simple; then publication was more or less an orderly process by established book publishers. The internet shatters this process.

    Also, I'm suspicious enough of government to assume that such a scheme will aid in data mining for subversives, undesirables and opponents and that surveillance laws will give government the right to mine the data.

    If I had to submit a copy of everything I 'published' online then it'd put the kibosh on much of what I said. Alternatively, I'd be forced to use Tor.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What on earth does the this mean?

      Suspicions? Why on earth should you have those? :)

      My understanding of the proposal is that anything published including blogs is covered, so in principle your posts could be included.

      I can't see it making any sense to archive individual posts out of context, so the only sensible approach would be for them to demand from El Reg a copy of an article + comments.

      Mind you, the purpose of the scheme is to preserve Australia's cultural heritage so I don't see why they should be interested in any Register articles other than ones written by Australians.

      1. Graham Wilson
        Thumb Down

        Re: What on earth does the this mean?

        "Suspicions? Why on earth should you have those?"

        Obviously, you don't live there.

        "...I don't see why they should be interested in any Register articles other than ones written by Australians".

        So how would they know unless they were monitoring IP addresses? If you only stored those who posted from Australia onto Australian-based sites then you'd not get a representative sample.

        Frankly, I'd have much more faith in the Internet Archive Wayback machine than some proposed tinpot operation in Australia:

        Seems to me to be just another featherbed for public servants, if you've been following Australian politics lately then you'd know what I mean (the Oz government is the joke of the world--if Mars had a population like us then our planet would hide it in shame) .

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Graham Wilson - Re: What on earth does the this mean?

          Re 'suspicions' - my comment may have appeared sarcastic, but it wasn't meant to be. Rather, I was expressing agreement with your concerns in a <something that isn't sarcastic but I don't know what it is> manner.

          I don't think governments ever do things for purely altruistic reasons - there's usually something in it for them.

          I've followed Oz-related stories on el Reg for long enough to know that there's something seriously nuts about Australian politicians where the internet is concerned.

          Your point about how they catch all the articles written by Australians is a good one. On the face of it they would have to track all activities of all Australians, and that's plain creepy. If they stick to the principle of cultural relevance, however, then they should only be concerned with material which is published from Australia, which is about Australia or which is generated and specifically published as a coherent piece by Australians.

          The last two types are a problem, though, because they imply the exercise of judgement, and that opens up the way for a falsified representation of Australian culture.

          1. Graham Wilson

            @JustaKOS -- Re: @Graham Wilson - What on earth does the this mean?

            Fine, seems there's little disagreement between us. You'll see that I'm not against internet archiving by my post reply to "Timing?", in fact I'm very much for it being a bit of a history buff. It's just that I simply can't conceive how it will work as efficiently as the paper system (which isn't all that efficient anyway, as many small publications/magazines simply don't bother to register with or post publications to the archive).

            BTW, I thought I expand on my comment "If you only stored those who posted from Australia onto Australian-based sites then you'd not get a representative sample." I live in Australia and I've no idea when I last posted to an Australian site--perhaps a year or so ago, but I've done so hundreds of times to overseas sites within the same interval. Moreover, I rarely visit Australian sites--for instance, a quick check of the history log shows none for today, and when I do it's usually for something as prosaic as finding postage rates.

            Thus, your point about "falsified representation of Australian culture" seems very valid. As Andrew Martin 1 observes, this proposal is "about two decades too late", so it's hard to see how it'll work unless they've some magic proposal we've not been told about, which I consider fanciful.

            A very important point that I missed earlier is that this proposal is an amendment to the Copyright Act, which makes the proposal even more ludicrous! Therefore, this post--which technically is copyright to me in Australia and to the publisher, foreign-based El Reg with foreign-based servers--would require archiving under this proposal. Policing this will be a nightmare, not to mention expensive (hence my earlier featherbedding comment).

            Even if this post were significant enough for archiving, which is extremely unlikely, then how on earth would they ensure the efficiency of archiving process unless some system of monitoring were to be in place.

            My mind boggles.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @JustaKOS -- @Graham Wilson - What on earth does the this mean?

              Boggling indeed.

              The only practical thing for them to do would be to confine it to sites which are Australian, ignoring anything which is posted elsewhere in the world.

              That's fine for covering 'Australia as seen by the Australians', but does ignore how Australia is viewed from outside. Maybe that's good enough.

              It strikes me that the only alternative is a system which trawls the world semantically analysing text and flagging up stuff relevant to Australia. That seems more like something the spooks would have, so maybe there's some cooperation on the cards.

              1. Graham Wilson
                Big Brother

                @JustaKOS -- Re: @JustaKOS -- @Graham Wilson - What on earth does the this mean?

                Right, especially last para.

                Putting one's paranoid cap on, this begs the question whether any technology especially developed for such archiving would be adapted or retrofitted for use by spooks. One doesn't have to answer that as most of us already very well know the answer.

                The more I think about this project the more it concerns me.

    2. frank ly

      Re: What on earth does the this mean?

      "... if their output is considered worthy of preservation."

      That makes it simple, doesn't it?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What on earth does the this mean?

      I had a poke through the Pandora archive & it seems to me that there is a good case for considering blogs etc. as being part of Australia's heritage - they are representative of Australian culture as it is now. With that in mind I think any Register article about Oz (including this one) is relevant, particularly if it generates significant interesting commentard activity.

      The only issue I have with the concept is that the archiving is selective and this provides an opportunity for distortion of the cultural record (whether willful or not).

  2. Anonymous Coward


    Isn't this about two decades too late? DVDs and - gasp - CD-ROMs ? Do people still buy those things? What about all the web content from the 1990s onwards?

    Don't get me wrong - it's a good idea in principle, and should have been taken seriously when digital media were taking off. But I wonder if the horse bolted ages ago, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle, etc.

    1. Graham Wilson

      Re: Timing? -- Right.

      Right, it's another waste of money.

      Archiving the internet is an extremely important function but wasting government money on a project that'll ultimately fail without massive and ongoing resources is not the way to go about it.

  3. Dr Paul Taylor

    common sense

    What a daft bunch of comments!

    I don't know how the existing "compulsory" lodging of stuff in the British Library works for books, but I don't imagine that they expect you to give them copies of every note that you scrawl to the milkman, even if you print it beautifully using a word processor.

    Of course we need digital versions of that. Amongst other things, it will remove all vestage of a need for commercial academic publishers.

    Google and the Internet Archive (Way Back Machine) collect and index all the garbage. This has turned out to be surprisingly useful compared to what we had a generation ago. But the point of a library is to sort out the valuable stuff from the notes to the milkman.

    1. Graham Wilson

      @Dr Paul Taylor -- Re: common sense

      Clearly, you've little or no idea about how moving from paper-based to digital/electronics records completely changes the data/storage paradigm (this is not only my idea but also of those more eminently qualified in the subject than me).

      If you want a clue as to where to begin I'll provide an example that illustrates just a few of the issues:

      Say I want to steal your paper-based personnel/medical records from a locked filing cabinet within some institution's records department. What do I have to do to achieve my goal? Now reconsider the same problem but this time your records are locked away digitally on a file server.

      - Consider where I'd have to be physically located, the risks I'd have to take and the time it would take me to steal just one physical paper-based record.

      - Now consider how long it would take and the effort involved in stealing a million of them.

      - Now recalculate the results when the records are all digital and located on one file server.

      - Now repeat the exercise again, this time by attempting to steal secrets from very secure locations/sites such as NASA, the War Office, the Pentagon etc.

      It's a no-brainer to figure the difference, I'll give you another clue. Think of how many times in the news in recent years you've heard of break-ins of organisations where a million secret physical paper-based records were stolen. What's your guess? Zero perhaps? ...And how many times with digital records eh? Once, twice, ten times a week or more?

      We've compulsory voting here in Australia and still very many people don't vote even with normal monitoring and fines, so much so that Government is considering using its surveillance powers to compulsorily make authorities search through driving licence, rates, bank and other records then automatically enroll the dodgers whether they like it or not. If all records were paper-based, as they were only a few years ago, then government wouldn't even consider the possibility, it be just too much trouble.

      Sure, it's not impossible to scout a nation's worth of paper-based records and effectively have almost 100% compliance as Nazi Germany proved with great expense and effort in the 1930s and 40s. However, in a modern Western democracy it would--or ought to be--very difficult indeed for a government to do so.

      Since 9/11, we've seen many instance of where the words 'government' and 'Orwellian' easily coexist in the same sentence. Many people consider such issues very important and view these trends with considerable concern.

      P.S.: enforcement/compliance of the compulsory lodging of physical books versus same for digital data invokes a very different methodology in each case, in the latter widespread data mining would be required. Not only will an analysis of this data almost certainly reveal new information not originally sought after by government but it has no mandate to use or even view it. But only a fool would think it extremely unlikely that the lack of a mandate would stop government from doing so.

      Methinks, your response is not only daft but also somewhat woolly.


  4. silent_count

    Graham Wilson: "Archiving the internet is an extremely important function"


    But just in case you were serious, there's always available space at /dev/nul.

    1. Graham Wilson

      @silent_count -- Yeah but...

      The lack of stamina defeats me and besides, as I mentioned earlier, it's already been done:

      "Frankly, I'd have much more faith in the Internet Archive Wayback machine than some proposed tinpot operation in Australia:"

      Oh, and I'll bet Google also has archives that are second to none.

  5. bep

    Still time to comment

    All the Australians posting here still have time to make comments on the proposal if they want to.

    Apparently there are approximately 2 million Australians living overseas at any time so only archiving content created in Australia wouldn't capture everything Australians are saying about Australia. I agree with the comments that digital archives are a whole different ball game to physical ones, but would anyone prefer they just throw up their hands and say "It's too hard, we won't bother"?

  6. ssharwood

    Too much paranoia?

    A couple of things here.

    Firstly. Australia may have a nutty filter proposal but is overall a pretty level-headed place for government IT policy. We have a modest gov 2.0 effort that sees all government documents issued under CC licenses. We have a decent cloud policy. We've had a few big shared services tits-ups of late, but no more than most governments.

    Secondly, Australia's National Library has a decent record with this stuff. Starting PANDORA in 1996 was pretty far sighted, IMHO. The Library was also an early crowdsourcing adopter thanks to a deal with Flickr to gather photos for the national archive.

    So to me it's a rather long and paranoid bow to draw to say this is stealth spookware. They just want to make sure that an old and useful policy - Legal Deposit - is still relevant as dead tree publications start to disappear.

    I also feel that the sketchy curation guidelines in the discussion paper seem pretty reasonable and that there's almost certainly no intention to capture every online utterance everywhere. Perhaps a prominent person's Tweetstream may be worthy of preservation. Mine sure isn't.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Too much paranoia?

      I don't think we disagree on the fact that they have no intention of capturing every on-line utterance. For my part I think they have stated an aim which could in principle make all on-line utterances subject to capture if they think they are worthwhile (and the onus is clearly on them to make the request for capture).

      Australian blogs are an easy matter to deal with, and I agree that Pandora looks to be a pretty far-sighted and useful thing. Other stuff (eg this article and the comments) is more difficult. If they are to correctly ignore the dross they must make a judgement, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to me to speculate on how they might do that.

      However they achieve it, they have to ensure that the criteria they use are objective enough to ensure minimal bias (if they want the historical record to be useful, that is).

      It struck me that the problem of automatically scanning for relevant material was sufficiently complex that any tool devised for that purpose would have many of the characteristics of spookware. Not paranoia, just an observation.

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