On the Internet, Things Never Go Away Completely

The growing problem of Internet data persistence
  • Thomas P. Keenan
Part of the IFIP — The International Federation for Information Processing book series (IFIPAICT, volume 262)


The problem of information “getting into the wrong hands” has existed since the first stored data computer systems. Numerous companies and government departments have been embarrassed by data left on un-erased media such as magnetic tape and discovered by inquiring minds. The advent of data communications brought the problem to a whole new level, since information could be transmitted over long distances to places unknown. The phenomenal rise of the Internet elevated the problem of Internet Data Persistence (IDP) to a public issue, as the “private” emails of public figures such Oliver North and Bill Gates were introduced in court proceedings, and when Delta Airlines fired a flight attendant for her in-uniform blog posting. In a significant way, the digital trail that we leave behind is becoming a new form of “online identity,” every bit as real as a passport, driver’s license or pin number. New technologies, from virtual worlds, to camera phones to video sharing sites, give the question of “Where Has My Data Gone and How Do I Really Know?” some new and frightening dimensions. Future developments like “signature by DNA biometric” will make the issue even more urgent and more complex. Coping with it will require new policies, technical tools, laws, and ethical standards. It has even been suggested that a whole new profession, sometimes called the “e-scrubber,” will arise to assist in tracking down and deleting unwanted online remnants.


Privacy Policy Virtual World Flight Attendant Video Sharing Site Holocaust Denier 


  1. 1.
    Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Semiannual Atomic Energy Commission Computer Information Meeting, May 20–21, 1968, report LA-3930-MS, available online at http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/doe/lanl/lib-www/la-pubs/00320743.pdfGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Federation of American Scientists, White House Email Chronology, http://www.fas.org/spp/starwars/offdocs/reagan/chron.txtGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    CNN, “Gates Deposition Makes Judge Laugh in Court,” Nov. 17, 1998, available at http://www.cnn.com/TECH/computing/9811/17/judgelaugh.ms.idg/Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Rootsecure.net, http://www.rootsecure.net/?p=reports/paris_hilton_phonebook_ hackedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Postel, J.B., Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc0821.txtGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Klensin, J., ed., Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc2821Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    http://www.whynot.net/ideas/902Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2006/pdf/ukpga_20060035_en.pdfGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    http://johnny.ihackstuff.com/Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Open Net Initiative, “Internet Filtering in China in 2004–2005: A Country Study, http://www.opermetinitiative.net/studies/china/, accessed Dec. 7, 2007.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Campbell, D., They’ve Got It Taped, New Statesman & Society; Aug 12, 1988, pg. 10Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Electronic Privacy Information Center, press release, November 16, 2000, http://www.epic.org/privacy/carnivore/11_16_releaseGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Electronic Privacy Information Center, “Silencing the Net — The Threat to Freedom of Expression On-line, Human Rights Watch, Vol. 8, No. 2, May, 1996, http://www.epic.org/free_speech/intl/hrw_report_5_96.htmlGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Holland, A., Does Generation Y Consider Email Obsolete? http://www. marketingsherpa.com/article.php?ident=30010Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    http://www.youtube.com/t/termsGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Cooper, A., Simon Wiesenthal Center, Private communication, May, 2007Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Simonetti, E., “I Was Fired for Blogging,” CNET News, Dec 16, 2004, http:// news.com.com/I%20was%20fired%20for%20blogging/2010-1030_3-5490836. htmlGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    http://www.blogger.com/privacyGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    http://www.skype.com/intl/en/company/legal/privacy/privacy_general.htmlGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    http://www.vonage.com/help.php?lid=footer_privacy&article=399Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    http://ucalgary.facebook.com/policy.phpGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Campanelli, M, “Checkpoint to Divest Three Units,” DMNews, July 13, 2006, http://www.dmnews.com/cms/dm-news/database-marketing/37474.html, accessed December 9, 2007.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    ZDNet, “Virtual Worlds, Real Problems,” June 11, 2007, available online at http://news.zdnet.co.uk/leader/0,1000002982,39287486,00.htm, accessed Dec. 9, 2007.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    http://reality.media.mit.edu/researchmethods.phpGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    http://europa.eu.int/comm/internal_market/privacy/index_en.htmGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Electronic Privacy Information Center, “Children and RFID Systems,” http:// www.epic.org/privacy/rfid/children.htmlGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Zetter, K., “Feds Rethinking RFID Passport,” Wired, online edition, Apr. 26, 2005, http://www.wired.com/politics/security/news/2005/04/67333Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/09/21/airport_pc_security_lax/Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    http://wcpl-businessbriefs.blogspot.com/2007/09/new-jobs-for-2020.html, accessed October 27, 2007Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Neumann, P., “Illustrative Risks to the public in the use of computer systems and related technology,” ACM SIGSOFT Engineering News, Vol. 21, No. 6, pp. 16–30, 1996.Google Scholar
  31. 31. httpV/www.alphasmart.com/k12/K12_Products/neo_K12.htmlGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas P. Keenan
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Environmental DesignUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

Personalised recommendations