The Rush to Save Dark Data

Emma Fusco

The Trump administration has made clear the disdain for evidence that shows how human activity is affecting the planet.  The administration is now proposing hefty budget cuts for government agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environment Protection Agency.  Fear is now buzzing among researchers that government data will be deleted as a “cost-conscious” measure.

But let’s make one thing clear: it is illegal to destroy government data.  However, agencies have the autonomy to revise websites and create other barriers in accessing the information.  

We have already seen drastic changes to websites of federal science agencies.  These changes are reflective of the publicly stated priorities of the new administration which raised the concern of the vulnerability of the information painstakingly collected over decades which cost hundreds of billions of dollars.  This information remains solely in the hands of the government, which spans across thousands of servers which may not be backed up and may be impossible to find.  
Some activists refer to this as “dark data” because as Maxwell Ogden phrased it, “It’s like dark matter; we know it must be there but we don’t know where to find it to verify… If they’re going to delete something, how will we even know it’s deleted if we didn’t know it was there?”