CORRECTION: This post previously identified the sender of the 550 falsely identified URLs as Europol’s EU Internet Referral Unit (EU IRU). The sender was in fact, the French national Internet Referral Unit, using Europol’s application, which sends the email from an @europol.europa.eu address. The EU IRU has informed us that it is not involved in the national IRUs’ assessment criteria of terrorist content.
The European Parliament is set to vote on legislation that would require websites that host user-generated content to take down material reported as terrorist content within one hour. We have some examples of current notices sent to the Internet Archive that we think illustrate very well why this requirement would be harmful to the free sharing of information and freedom of speech that the European Union pledges to safeguard.
In the past week, the Internet Archive has received a series of email notices from French Internet Referral Unit (French IRU) falsely identifying hundreds of URLs on archive.org as “terrorist propaganda”. At least one of these mistaken URLs was also identified as terrorist content in a separate take down notice sent under the authority of the French government’s L’Office Central de Lutte contre la Criminalité liée aux Technologies de l’Information et de la Communication (OCLCTIC).
The one-hour requirement essentially means that we would need to take reported URLs down automatically and do our best to review them after the fact.
It would be bad enough if the mistaken URLs in these examples were for a set of relatively obscure items on our site, but the French IRU’s lists include some of the most visited pages on archive.org and materials that obviously have high scholarly and research value. See a summary below with specific examples.
French IRU’s mistaken notices:
At least 550 archive.org URLs were falsely identified by the French IRU in the past week as terrorist propaganda, including:
- major collection pages (displaying millions of items), many pertaining only to material preserved and posted directly by the Internet Archive, others that include user-uploaded content, e.g.:
- scholarly articles, e.g.:
- US Government-produced broadcasts and reports, e.g.:
- User-posted materials that clearly do not fit the French IRU notices’ description as terrorist propaganda, e.g.:
Again, these examples are only a few of the some 550 falsely identified URLs. The erroneous reports continue to be sent to us by the French IRU (the most recent example was sent a day prior to this post).
French OCLCTIC mistaken notice:
The OCLCTIC emailed us a take down notice a few days ago (April 8th) identifying an item making commentary on the Quran as including “provocation of acts of terrorism or apology for such acts”:
The report stated that blocking procedures may be implemented against us if we did not remove the content in 24 hours. This URL was also on one of the lists that the French IRU reported to us.
Thus, we are left to ask – how can the proposed legislation realistically be said to honor freedom of speech if these are the types of reports that are currently coming from EU law enforcement and designated governmental reporting entities? It is not possible for us to process these reports using human review within a very limited timeframe like one hour. Are we to simply take what’s reported as “terrorism” at face value and risk the automatic removal of things like THE primary collection page for all books on archive.org?
Some recent press stories (1, 2) have discussed archived blog posts of a prominent journalist, Joy Ann Reid, in the Wayback Machine and her claims that some of these posts were “manipulated” by an “unknown, external party”.
This past December, Reid’s lawyers contacted us, asking to have archives of the blog (blog.reidreport.com) taken down, stating that “fraudulent” posts were “inserted into legitimate content” in our archives of the blog. Her attorneys stated that they didn’t know if the alleged insertion happened on the original site or with our archives (the point at which the manipulation is to have occurred, according to Reid, is still unclear to us).
When we reviewed the archives, we found nothing to indicate tampering or hacking of the Wayback Machine versions. At least some of the examples of allegedly fraudulent posts provided to us had been archived at different dates and by different entities.
We let Reid’s lawyers know that the information provided was not sufficient for us to verify claims of manipulation. Consequently, and due to Reid’s being a journalist (a very high-profile one, at that) and the journalistic nature of the blog archives, we declined to take down the archives. We were clear that we would welcome and consider any further information that they could provide us to support their claims.
At some point after our correspondence, a robots.txt exclusion request specific to the Wayback Machine was placed on the live blog. That request was automatically recognized and processed by the Wayback Machine and the blog archives were excluded, unbeknownst to us (the process is fully automated). The robots.txt exclusion from the web archive remains automatically in effect due to the presence of the request on the live blog. Also, the blog URL which previously pointed to an msnbc.com page now points to a generic parked page.
After multiple attempts to contact the relevant authorities in the Indian government regarding the recent blocking of archive.org in that country, the Internet Archive received a response early this morning indicating that two court orders (here and here) were the source of the block. The orders identify a list of thousands of websites to be blocked for allegedly making available two separate films, “Lipstick Under my Burkha” and “Jab Harry Met Sejal”. Both orders come from the same judge of the High Court of Madras (civil jurisdiction). According to many reports, http://archive.org is blocked, but https is not.
Even beyond the fundamental and major problems with preemptively blocking a site for users’ submissions and content of which it is unaware, there are serious issues with these orders. We would like to know the following:
1. Is the Court aware of and did it consider the fact that the Internet Archive has a well-established and standard procedure for rights holders to submit take down requests and processes them expeditiously? We find several instances of take down requests submitted for one of the plaintiffs, Red Chillies Entertainments, throughout the past year, each of which were processed and responded to promptly.
2. After a preliminary review, we find no instance of our having been contacted by anyone at all about these films. Is there a specific claim that someone posted these films to archive.org? If so, we’d be eager to address it directly with the claimant.
3. Archive.org is included along with thousands of other websites in a list (entitled “Non-Compliant Sites”) to block for allegedly making available the two films of concern. The only URL the list identifies pertaining to us is “https://archive.org”. There are no specific URLs for alleged locations of films on the site, only the full domain. Was there any attempt to exercise any level of review or specificity beyond “archive.org”?
All in all, this is a very worrying development and is part of a harmful pattern of governments increasingly taking web content (and in many cases entire sites) offline in unpredictable and excessive ways. We have seen reports from scholars and academics that this block has disrupted their work. We hope full access to archive.org will be restored quickly.
UPDATE: the Indian news site MediaNama has analysis of the court orders and their legality here. That article also notes that the periods that the orders set for the blocks have both expired (the later one was to last through August 8). It’s unclear if it’s been lifted or is in the process of being lifted. We hope so and have inquired with the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
Tomorrow, the Internet Archive will join with a huge list of Internet companies and organizations to protest the FCC Chair’s stated intentions to do away with net neutrality protections established by prior Commissioners.
Among other actions, the Archive will be displaying a pop-up message tomorrow on our sites to demonstrate the severity of this threat and simulate an Internet in which ISPs are given free reign to provide selective access to the web.
Organizations and site owners can learn more about joining in the Day of Action here.
Private individuals can help by 1. sending a letter to the FCC to voice your support for net neutrality (the deadline for comments is coming up fast!) and 2. spreading the message on social media.
The people fought back PIPA and SOPA before and we’re ready to stand up again!
Please stand with the Internet Archive and over 50 allies in the effort to protect free speech by adding your name in support of net neutrality and writing to your Congressperson today. We have only 40 days left to stop a current FCC proposal that could upend the government’s prior commitment to net neutrality and seriously threaten free speech online. If you represent an organization, please consider participating in the movement on July 12 to inform the public on how to take action.
The end of net neutrality could be devastating to the Internet community at large in a multitude of ways. For example, relatively small organizations like the Archive don’t have the resources to negotiate special deals with ISPs, let alone pay new tolls in order to reach users who rely on our service to broadcast their voice. Many like us could be relegated to an Internet “slow lane” while bigger sites and closer partners of ISPs enjoy faster speeds.
We have fought against threats to a free and open Internet before and won. On September 10, 2014, we came together as hundreds of organizations and over 4 million people to support net neutrality and speak out against SOPA. In 2015, the FCC heard our voices and issued a landmark ruling called the “Open Internet Order” that declared the Internet a neutral public utility which couldn’t be censored or manipulated by corporate interests.
Fast forward to 2017. Only 18 months after the FCC reached a decision to protect our free speech, they have switched stances and are doing everything in their power to pass Docket 17-108, which would reverse the 2015 decision we worked so hard to achieve. The effort is led by a commissioner who was formerly a lawyer for one of the ISPs that has lobbied hardest against net neutrality and stands to directly benefit from this policy reversal. At our expense.
We need your help. Protect digital free speech and universal access to all knowledge. Please make your voice heard: send comments to the FCC, contact your Congressperson, and connect your organization with the July 12 campaign, and share these links with your friends.
Comcast Internet users found themselves unable to access archive.org starting late Thursday afternoon due to Comcast blocking access to our site. The earliest time Comcast users reported problems was around 4:30 PM PST and access was restored around 6:15 AM the next day (a span of about 13 hrs 45 min).
Comcast informed us that the block was put into place due to detection of an apparent Xfinity-branded phishing page posted to archive.org by an uploader. According to Comcast, we had taken that page down promptly, but Comcast’s block was nevertheless implemented without notice on late Thursday afternoon. Hours after our reporting the blocking to friends at Comcast they diagnosed the issue, removed the block and restored their customers’ access to archive.org.
In addition to a significant number of archive.org users, some of our employees use Comcast for access and were unable to do some of their work during the block. This was also reported on in Vice’s Motherboard.
We searched our communications for any reports from Comcast preceding the block and found only one email sent to us Thursday morning reporting a phishing page, which we took down promptly. Sent by an outside security company working for Comcast, the email did not mention any possibility of a block. The email and our removal of the item preceded the first known instance of the block by about eight hours.
This is the gist of what we know at this point. We continue to gather information and take this incident very seriously.
A new article at the Jordanian news site 7iber.com by Reem Al-Masri tells the story of how the Archive was blocked in the country of Jordan last year and came to be unblocked. Al-Masri highlights many of the problems inherent in the general Jordanian legal approach to censoring sites. Indeed, government censorship is an extremely worrisome issue in and of itself. But, the specific instance of archive.org’s block is all the more extraordinary because it appears to have been enacted outside of the established Jordanian legal process.
Jordanian law currently empowers a single body to issue a block order, the Jordanian Media Commission. Based on evidence from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and various user reports, it’s clear that archive.org was blocked some time in 2016. However, the Media Commission denies ever issuing a block order for archive.org or knowing why it was blocked. Fortunately, the block was lifted not long after we contacted the Media Commission (again, we don’t know how or why as the Commission has not responded to our inquiries on these points).
But if the Commission didn’t block us, is there another entity in the Jordanian government that did so extralegally? And what was the reason for the block? Right now we are in the dark, but as Al-Masri sums up in her article: “what we know is that there is a parallel window for blocking websites, through which an ‘invisible hand’ practices its authority and draws for us the Internet that it wants us to use, without any accountability.”
We hope this incident will help increase awareness of online censorship in Jordan and everywhere it occurs and how it often leads to the blocking not only specific content, but entire websites (or in our case, an entire library) with no notification or explanation. It also serves as an example of how the practical limits of authority to block sites may not always end where we are told that they will by the law and politicians’ proposals.
We want to thank Reem Al-Masri, 7iber, Citizen Lab and everyone who helped us identify, investigate, and draw attention to the block.
The Internet Archive, with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is making public the second National Security Letter (NSL) issued to the Archive in our history (we received our first NSL in 2007 and successfully contested it with help from EFF and the ACLU). In response to our challenging this new NSL, the FBI has agreed to correct its standard NSL template and send clarifications about the law to potentially thousands of communications providers who have received NSLs in the last year and a half.
NSLs are a controversial tool that the FBI uses to demand specific types of private account information from service providers without a judge’s prior approval. NSLs also come with a gag order on the recipient. Their constitutionality is currently being litigated in courts.
The NSL we received includes incorrect and outdated information regarding the options available to a recipient of an NSL to challenge its gag. Specifically, the NSL states that such a challenge can only be issued once a year. But in 2015, Congress did away with that annual limitation and made it easier to challenge gag orders. The FBI has confirmed that the error was part of a standard NSL template and other providers received NSLs with the same significant error. We don’t know how many, but it is possibly in the thousands (according to the FBI, they sent out around 13,000 NSLs last year). How many recipients might have delayed or even been deterred from issuing challenges due to this error? Thankfully, the FBI says that they will now be issuing corrections regarding the law. You can see their letter to us here.
Publishing this NSL is also important because only a few have ever been made public due to their across-the-board gag restriction, in spite of the fact that hundreds of thousands of NSLs have been issued since 2001.
Information regarding the individual targeted by this NSL and the issuing office is redacted in the version that we are releasing. We didn’t find any documents in our records responsive to the NSL, so nothing was turned over.
We are deeply appreciative for the assistance of EFF in this matter, enabling us to make public an example of a mostly obscured practice with very significant implications for individual privacy and civil liberties. See EFF’s press release as well their excellent collection of blog posts for more background and analysis.
Yesterday, legislation was introduced in the US Senate that would enable Congress to fast-track approval of secret trade agreements by Republican Orrin Hatch and Democrat Ron Wyden. The timing is important because the President is currently pushing for the approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement negotiated in secret meetings with international lawmakers that has serious ramifications for a host of important issues, Internet privacy and intellectual property among them.
We are worried that Congress’ and the public’s ability to review, discuss, and debate proposed agreements would be significantly limited by this bill. It would also force Congress to have a strict yes/no vote on the presented agreement, with no ability to make amendments beforehand.
The impacts of these agreements and the international rules that they impose upon citizens and Internet users across the globe are too sweeping to be coordinated behind closed doors and then presented in a short window for a straight up and down vote.
There is still time for concerned individuals and organizations to resist this push, as we did with SOPA, PIPA, and the threat to net neutrality.
For more information and organized ways to take action, see the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s write-up and the Internet Vote campaign.