Thursday, January 22, 2009

Broken Links at DotGov Sites

Are broken web links at U.S. government sites going to be a feature of all future changes in Administration? I'm having trouble finding some of the links I had saved on a couple of global health issues from official U.S. government sites. Shouldn't we have some web continuity between Bush and Obama Administrations?

I can no longer get at a press release about human rights from Dec. 10, 2008 that was on the site. I get redirected to the Obama briefing room, not even a "page has been moved" message. Very Ministry of Truth.

Yesterday, Maryn McKenna found a broken link to that used to tell about the President's Malaria Initiative. No refer pages to where the pages are archived (although the Malaria Initiative itself is still available at

I thought, okay, that is the White House--a very political place. But then in writing up my post about the Iranian AIDS doctors who were just sentenced to prison terms for trying to foment a velvet revolution via international HIV meetings (you can't make this stuff up, unfortunately), I realized that a link to an official statement from U.S. State department about the Alaei case was broken. The error message read "We're sorry. That page can't be found and may have been moved."

Since the statement was made by the Bush Administration, the contents had been moved to an archive site. Okay, fine, but at least give me the refer. I had to go and search by eyeball (keyword search Alaei brought up nothing) to find the archived statement.

That's when I started to worry. What about all the press releases at the Centers for Disease Control? Are all those links broken, too? Fortunately, as of Jan. 22, 2008, the CDC's RSS feed for press releases about vaccinations, mortality data, etc. is intact.

I used to think saving links to U.S. government web sites was a safe thing to do because, well, it's the government, they have to preserve those web pages--right? It is a matter of public record. And press releases are part of the public record. But what if the government webmasters preserve the pages and destroy the links? Makes keeping track of things mighty difficult.

It's a different kind of way of politicizing the record--every bit as Orwellian as deleting the word "abortion" as a search term from the Popline database last spring. Fortunately, that was fixed.

Is there a technological fix for broken links, too? Can the new Administration put up their stuff without losing the links to the old information? It is the same government of the same country, after all--just different temporary leaders.

Do you have any other examples of broken government links about global health post-Obama transition?

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