Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Internet Based Non State Actors And Their Potential Affect Upon Digital Archives

Lately Iʼve been mulling over the significance of Internet Based Non State Actors and
their potential affects upon Internet accessible archives, mostly due to the new star on the
scene, Lulz Security, aka LulzSec. For those of you who havenʼt heard about their recent
exploits theyʼve included disabling, hacking, and obtaining data from a number of high profile
targets due to their sociopolitical stands or just plain fun. These have included corporations,
governments and non-profits such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), InfraGard, the
National Health Service (NHS), Nintendo, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), Sony, and the
US Senate to name a few.

What is an Internet Based Non State Actor? In fact there isnʼt really a proper term for
them since some schools of international relations do not account for them at all, since Non
State Actors of any kind do not fit into the Westphalian State Model. On the other hand newer
models that do recognize Non State Actors (NSA) lack a category that really fully describes
internet based groups such as Annonymous, LulzSec, Wikileaks, etcetera, since these groups
shift their focus continually, while simultaneously exerting both soft and hard power upon
multinational corporations, traditional nation states and international relations. These groups can
be at times categorized as Violent Non-State Actors (VNSA) yet simultaneously can carry the
traits of a Nongovernmental Organization (NGO). This issue of taxonomy will likely be further
explored in the coming years as traditional state power continues to erode and droves of
academics delve into archives, libraries, and online databases to come up with a multiplicity of

However, my original question is more hypothetical in nature; how will these Internet
Based Non State Actors or IBNSAs affect digital archives that are accessible over networks?
Centralized libraries have not always faired well throughout history with the burning of the
Library at Alexandria, the Fourth Crusadeʼs destruction of the Imperial Library of Constantinople,
or the Hanlin Academy Libraryʼs damage during the Boxer Rebellion. Centralized digital
archives really fair no better and possibly worse since physical proximity is no longer required to
destroy, damage, or pillage a collection of servers housing an archive and if anything has also
added an element of surprise in favor of an IBNSA or sole individual that might want to inflict

Decentralized and distributed models may prove a harder target as they spread risk
around, since not all the data is stored in a central location or if it is, it is replicated and
distributed in a fashion that is geographically decentralized. However, this does not fully isolate
or remove vulnerability, especially since interconnects between the nodes, in decentralized and
distributed networks, can act as gateways of attack once one node is compromised. At the very
least this can disrupt the confidence of a decentralized or distributed digital archive per this
discussion, which may not be that dissimilar to the recent hack and compromise of the Mt. Gox
Bitcoin Exchange, which tanked the value of the distributed peer to peer currency known as

With the rise of NSAs and the yet to be categorized IBNSAs, in a post state globalized
and network centric world, we also have an explosion of varying and unpredictable agendas that
can be exercised with a certain amount of impunity. These entities may or may not view the
content of archives and libraries as sacred as they may not hold data, information, or knowledge
to their liking and thus become targets, which is not something uncommon in human history. Of
course they may also just do it for the Lulz. In any case as we continue to bite and scratch over
exactly how archives and libraries should be digitized and made available to the world via the
Internet, remember it might be worth keeping a few of those physical copies around just in case.

Emery Martin is an Artist, Educator, and Techie currently based in LA and teaching at CalArts: School of Film/Video.

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