It's already a worn cliché that the horrific events of September 11th "changed everything," but on the web it's true: scores of web sites have shut down or have removed content in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
What exactly is missing? While it's impossible to know the full scope, a number of watchdog sites are documenting the changes made on the web. Two of the most comprehensive are maintained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and OMB Watch.
U.S. government agencies that once offered open access to "public" information are among the most prominent sites now restricting access to information, according to the two watchdog sites. Agencies removing content range from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to the U.S. Geological Survey. Most government sites that have pulled information have displayed bland notices noting the removal of content, along with "apologies for any inconvenience" messages.
Despite censoring its own sites, the U.S. government has apparently not forced any non-governmental sites to shut down. However, the British government has forced the closure of at least two web sites, and a number of Internet Service Providers have also pulled the plug on "inappropriate" sites.
Some sites have engaged in self-censorship, euphemistically claiming that they are "evaluating" whether content once freely available on the web should now be accessible online.
This "9/11 404 effect" creates a significant challenge for searchers. It hits professional researchers and journalists particularly hard. As online journalism commentator Steve Outing notes in the eMedia Tidbits weblog, "Where journalists (and the public) will likely suffer is with information that's created from now forward. Agencies aren't publishing as much information on the Web due to security concerns, so reporters will have to work much harder to gain access (or even learn about it)."
To keep up with content that's gone missing from the web, check out the EFF and OMBWatch pages listed below.
Chilling Effects of Anti-Terrorism
The Electronic Frontier Foundation's list of web sites that have been shut down or have removed content in the aftermath of the events of September 11th.
The Post-September 11 Environment: Access to Government Information
This list, from activist watchdog OMB Watch, provides an inventory of U.S. government information that has been withheld since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Journalists: Crank Up Your Search Skills
Steve Outing on removal of government information from the web.
Librarians, Others Alarmed by Order to Destroy Data
The Morning Call, November 21, 2001
It's not just the web: the Government Printing Office has ordered libraries to destroy public information specifically, a CD-ROM on reservoirs and dams prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey. The reason for the order: national security.
Deleted "Sensitive" Web Sites Still Available via Google
Heightened security concerns have led a number of organizations to remove "sensitive" information from their web sites, yet much of this information is still available, even to people with relatively modest searching skills. Since this story ran in SearchDay, Google has apparently changed its policy and has proactively worked with some organizations to remove content, according to ABC News.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.
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