Before Trump Took Over, Hackers Downloaded US Climate Data and Stored It on European Servers
While Donald J Trump was celebrating the day after being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, a bunch of scientists and programmers were busy collecting government data at the University of California Los Angeles. A spreadsheet detailed their potential targets: dedicated webpages on climate change research, the solar power initiative, data sets that compared renewable energy sources to fossil fuels, and much more such data that they planned to harvest.
Hackers downloaded and stored US climate change data on European servers
The programmers, ecologists, lab managers, students, and data enthusiasts gathered at the UCLA for harvesting government data and uploading it to the Internet Archive. At the UCLA event, several hackers and programmers had been working to scrape as much climate and environment data from the government websites. All of this was expected to be abolished after Trump took office.
As soon as the UCLA event kicked off on Friday and Trump was sworn in, pages related to climate change from whitehouse.gov started to disappear. This is when things started to get rough for the event organizers. It is unusual for the administration members to remove all pages of their predecessor's, so clearly things were unprecedented.
Laurie Allen is one of the technical leads of this data-rescuing event and an assistant director for digital scholarships in the University of Pennsylvania libraries.
In the last four days I think we’ve been working 22 hours a day, because we were hearing that these precise changes were going to happen.
In the coming days, the volunteer group of programmers will scan and compare government websites to the archived versions. This will allow them to see the changes before and after the new administration. Bethany Wiggin, the director of the environmental humanities program at Penn and another organizer of the event, said:
We’ll be letting people know what the changes exactly are. We hope to produce a weekly report on changes.
In addition to this, Allen and Wiggin also stated the mishaps that could potentially take place in the near future. Compared to the changes in whitehouse.org, the coming changes could be massive and that includes the government's gigantic data sets on environment health and climate change that scientists and researchers make use of.
This group of programmers and data enthusiasts has so far managed to scrape thousands of pages off nasa.gov, doe.gov, whitehouse.gov and epa.gov. The fact that scientists and researchers were able to download as much data as they can related to climate and environmental data off government websites is a shocker.
One of the event organizers at the UCLA event stated that “These events build onto each other. We might use tools that were built at other events”. The group of volunteer programmers at the events have been setting up custom scripts to harvest more critical federal data sets and they are sharing these scripts with one another. The data-rescue hackathons are using the datarefuge.org website based on an open source data portal software, Ckan, to store data. They're hoping that it will provide an alternative repository between the administration before and after Trump was elected.
CEO Michael Riedyk of the Canadian data archiving company, Page Freezer, offered to host the data in a second location - just in case. Riedyk said,
We built this huge archiving cloud that crawls websites to preserve them, either to comply with regulation or for legal protection. I thought, wow, we have that complete infrastructure in place.
[...] I said, ‘We can archive these for you, and figure out how to open up to the public later.’
Page Freezer's software will scan pages on a weekly basis and check if any change has been made. “We have all kinds of really cool tools to highlight what changed - we can see exactly how people have edited or deleted.” According to Quartz, "Page Freezer has three data centers, one in the US, one in Europe, and one in Canada; the US government data will be archived on their European servers".
As more data rescuing events take place across the country, it will only make things easier, according to Britt Paris, a PhD student at UCLA.
This is it for now, folks. What are your thoughts on hackers downloading US government climate and environment data and storing it outside of the US? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.