``History is always written, adding, rewritten, but never written till the end.''
In the future, Web archives might become the most comprehensive source of historical information on all kinds of human activities and individual people. This is bound to have far-reaching consequences, also in a political sense. In his frightening utopia ``Nineteen eighty-four", George Orwell describes the manipulation with archives and the memory of mankind. In the utopia, a dictatorial government maintains its control on the society with a sophisticated system that is based on every day archive modification to make the past correspond to the present. This includes even changes in the language of the epoque. Though an utopia, the novel may not be that unrealistic after all, and should be taken seriously when trying to assess political implications of comprehensive Web archives in the future. For example, techniques reminiscent of those in ``Nineteen eighty-four" were used in the Stalinistic Soviet Union, where, for example, one of the architects of the October Revolution and the Red Army - Trotski - was simply wiped out from the official history books. An amusing result of this kind of politics was that in Soviet school books of contemporary history, hardly any explicit names survived. Rather, the writing of history became a mere set of standard formulae in standard ``cleared" language without any factual content, similar to what Orwell describes.
``And what they are telling us they have in mind is taking the whole thing over and using it as a technique of domination and control.''
A comprehensive archive is a powerful political weapon. Depending on who controls it, it may either be a dangerous weapon, that deletes or changes Trotski's past, or it may be a weapon that promotes objectivity and prevents manipulation of the past. In this way, archives exercise a certain power upon society.
A recent American science-fiction film ``Matrix" was presented as the precursor of the cinema of the third millennium. In this film, the ``real" world becomes virtual and some mysterious organisation, called Matrix, controls everyone and everything. This becomes feasible, because of the lack of memory. People do not remember the past, and the way the Matrix itself was constructed. Archives provide access to the history, the memory, and the collective experience of a society. Certainly, archives can not prevent any human mistakes or crimes, but they give a reference point for the present and the future, a room for man's individual thoughts based on objective facts, in other words freedom. Web archives might be so comprehensive, that their impact may be comparable to the advent of bookprinting as a new technique in the Middle Ages. Alone the provision of access to the Bible in native language (rather than Latin) had far-reaching impacts on the society, since it endangered the political position of the clergy. Many more people could suddenly read the Bible themselves and did not need a priest to read and explain. A similar process is happening on the Internet, e.g. international trading companies are being challenged, since information on potential exporters and importers is directly, and easily available via business-to-business information on the WWW.
``The Internet is a global communications medium. Decentralized, flexible, and anti-monopolistic, it is particularly suitable to the promotion of pluralism, freedom of expression and access to public information.'' -Center for Democratic Technology.
Eventually, comprehensive Web archives may become literally the memory of human mankind. This implies that they offer more than a simple collection of separate pages, but rather a cohesive reflection of the spirit, the language, and the ideas of the time. In this sense, it may be similar to time-traveling into the past. In addition, easy and fast access to the accumulated, past knowledge, will considerably increase the pace of knowledge and information progress, with immense potential for impacts. For example, compare the speed of commercial information transmission between medieval cities with the exploding speed today, caused by the the boom of E-commerce, that turned an entire industry upside down. Web archives will both have an impact on the development of E-commerce (e.g. independent verification of exact product descriptions on specific days), and they will also help to study and better understand the development of E-commerce as such.
As another example, let us look at the example of a sociological agency (read secret agency) that analyses the public opinion on political and even individual questions. Such an agency will not only want to search some combinations of keywords in large amounts of textual information, but with Web archives it will be able to analyse dynamic time evolutions. It is more than Echelon style activity - not just capturing peoples' mails and doind ``antiterrorist check-outs" with keywords searches such as for ``bomb, nuclear, NSA" etc. The next challenge is rather trying to monitor people's opinion by drawing on information posted on the WWW. Again these kind of ideas pose both a positive challenge, as well as a some danger of misuse. Some people have even devised complex world opinion-finding processes as a potential future ways to govern the World . Such a utopian civil society, would replace the modern democratic principle of ``one person, one vote" by a ``votes" weighted according to their ``relevance" or predominant expression on media such as the future WWW.