The Importance of Saving Data

Sorry, but I’ve got to break into my normal Monday-morning stream to spread this around.  It’s a ProPublica document (click on the link to pull down a copy) detailing safe ways to leak information.

When I first heard about the data-stashing “parties” I thought it was something of an over-reaction.  Climate scientists and students organizing a massive effort to copy important data out of government files in case the new Administration decided to cover it all up somehow.

I’ve changed my mind.

What changed it was USDA’s suddenly blocking access to their animal welfare database, the one that keeps inspection records on research labs, companies, zoos, circuses, and animal transporters and how well they adhere to the Animal Welfare Act.

The agency said in a statement that it revoked public access to the reports “based on our commitment to being transparent …”  Being transparent by blocking information — there’s a certain Orwellian flavor to that, but it gets better.

I followed this article‘s link to see the original statement.  Well, I tried to follow it.  FireFox flat-out refused to show me the page because “Your connection is not secure. The owner of acis.aphis.educ.usda.gov has configured their website improperly.”  The error code was “SEC_ERROR_UNKNOWN_ISSUER.” Funny that an official .gov site mucked up its security certificate.

Then I tried Microsoft’s  edge browser, which has less alert security than my beefed-up FireFox.  edge showed me an imposing and somewhat threatening USDA e-Login page including the statements that “Unauthorized or improper use of this system may result in disciplinary action, as well as civil and criminal penalties…. You have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any communications or data transiting or stored on this information system…. Your consent is final and irrevocable…

disappearing-lorem-ipsumAll this before Mr Sonny Perdue III is confirmed as the new Secretary of Agriculture. That name rings a bell, right?  Yeah, Perdue Farms, the country’s #3 poultry farmer. It’s hard not to connect dots to the Department suddenly wanting to hide farm inspection records.

So, it’s now pretty clear that we can expect other government-funded databases to disappear without warning, especially databases even remotely related to climate change, drug safety, water supply degradation, … you know, the things that there are regulations about that get in the way when your object is to maximize profits.

So — if you’re in science and you have possession of or access to data (databases, files, whatever) that might be in jeopardy

  1.  Get it to an offsite and secure backup ASAP
  2. When/if it becomes clear that your or the public’s access to that data is about to be restricted, take one or more of the actions laid out in the ProPublica document.

Sometimes it’s rational to be paranoid.

~~ Rich Olcott

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3 thoughts on “The Importance of Saving Data

  1. Prudence is not paranoia! We the People are being handed full responsibility for our own and the planet’s safety, since the government is abdicating it.

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  2. Rich, thanks for using your bully pulpit to counter the bullying, not to mention tunneling through the bull. An advisory warning: the ProPublica linked page discusses at the end the use of an alternative browser. I just read an article in a newspaper (remember those?) that noted that “documents released by Snowden and others have shown that the NSA automatically tracks people who even just read about xxx online” [with the name of that browser in place of the “xxx”] (Seattle Weekly).

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