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GCN : March 2015
A leading light of the Internet is worried that the time is rapidly approaching when email, photos, documents and other digital rel- ics may be lost to history because the tools needed to view them are becoming obsolete. Vint Cerf, a Google vice president who is credited with nursing Internet development from its beginnings as a defense research project, said we risk entering a “dark age,” when digital objects could become lost because software needed to access them no longer exists. In a recent talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in San Jose, Cerf called for the development of “digital vellum,” a way to maintain support for technology that could open original files regardless of their age. “We don’t want our digital lives to fade away,” Cerf told the conference. “If we want to preserve them, we need to make sure that the digital objects we create today can still be rendered far into the future.” The cost of not addressing the issue would be painful, he warned. “When you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets and all of the World Wide Web, it’s clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history.” Cerf is backing a plan to take an X- ray snapshot of the content, the appli- cation and operating system, together with a description of the machine that it runs on, and store the information in the cloud in perpetuity. That snapshot “will recreate the past in the future,” he said, by pre- serving both the data and technical specs necessary for future users to access the data and recreate the im- age. “The key here is when you move those bits from one place to another, that you still know how to unpack them to correctly interpret the differ- ent parts. That is all achievable if we standardize the descriptions,” Cerf said at the conference. A version of Cerf’s digital vellum has been tried at Carnegie Mellon Univer- sity by Mahadev Satyanarayanan, a professor of computer science, with the support of IBM Corp. The system, called Open Library of Images for Virtualized Execution or OLIVE, aims to preserve digital information as executable content, by “freezing” and reproducing the execution state that generates the information, according to a report on NewsFactor. Using OLIVE, researchers have already archived the Mystery House, the original 1982 graphic adventure game for the Apple II, an early version of WordPerfect and Doom, the original 1993 first-person shooter game. • How to avoid the coming ‘dark age’ for digital records A seven-alarm fire that wreaked havoc in a New York City warehouse holding paper records for the city, New York state and a variety of commercial firms is raising impor- tant questions for records managers. Besides the loss of the paper records, those strolling close to the warehouse could spot private information of individuals in the fire’s debris, which included medical records, court transcripts, lawyers’ letters, sonograms and bank checks the CitiStor- age Company kept, according to a New York Times report. Various municipal agencies housed their records in the CitiStorage facility. Such records included confidential information such as Social Security numbers and sensi- tive medical information one might find use- ful for stealing the identities of others. In a release on CitiStorage’s homepage, the company assured customers that teams had been dispatched to the site of the fire to retrieve the sensi- tive documents. CitiStorage also maintained that an on-site incident command center was established after first responders arrived and that a significant number of documents had been recovered and ac- counted for. “As an early adopter of electronic medi- cal records systems, HHC keeps duplicates of vital patient records in electronic form, and we do not anticipate this will affect our operations,” said a spokesman for Health and Hospitals Corporation, which said it housed only older records at the ware- house. Additionally, the warehouse fire ignited fears of identity theft and data breaches in which hackers might now be able to infiltrate a database to gain even more personal information. – Mark Pomerleau Warehouse fire raises questions about perishable public records Besides the loss of paper records, those close to the warehouse could spot other private information in the fire’s debris. [BrieFing] 8 GCN MARCH 2015 • GCN.COM APIMAGES 0315gcn_006-015.indd 8 3/5/15 12:40 PM