The Federal Ministry of the Interior has probably the nicest error page of a German authority: “Oops, this page cannot be found”, it says there somewhat un-ministerialif you followed an old link to the ministry website.
Free information is a prerequisite for democracy. Hence: The “Best of Freedom of Information”, every two weeks, by Arne Semsrott. He is the project manager of FragDenStaat and a freelance journalist. He works on the subjects of freedom of information, transparency, lobbying and migration policy.
Over the past few years, almost all federal authorities have redesigned and reorganized their online presence. Almost no federal authority has followed the more than 20 year old motto of the web founder Tim Berners-Lee: “Cool URIs don’t change.” Roughly translated into German, the rule is: cool web addresses don’t change.
Control and traceability
The meaning behind the motto is clear. Even after a website has been relaunched, you should still be able to access their resources. Even if the addresses of websites and documents made available online have to change, at least a forwarding from old to new addresses must be set up.
The fact that this principle has still hardly received any attention from authorities (or their service providers) means that, for example, hardly any article on federal authorities in Wikipedia provides fully functioning evidence. On the Wikipedia pages on the Bundestag and the federal government alone, half of the individual records on government websites now lead nowhere. Older links, for example to the environment ministry’s website, are regularly dead because the ministry was renamed in 2017 – BMU instead of BMUB – and there is no forwarding from bmub.bund.de, which is no longer available. Control and traceability: over.
Judgments – URIs regularly point to nirvana
The URI problem does not only exist in Germany. In the USA, lawyers from Harvard Law School reported already in 2014that half of all links from US Supreme Court rulings no longer work.
It’s not that bad at the German Federal Constitutional Court – especially since the rare links in judgments mostly refer to the court itself, which has actually had stable URIs for many years. At the Federal Administrative Court, however, older judgments in particular regularly refer to external nirvana. It becomes particularly difficult when laws and regulations refer to links from federal authorities.
For example, on March 9, 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture announced in the Federal Law Gazette: “The Material Flow Balance Ordinance of December 14, 2017 (Federal Law Gazette I p. 3942) must be corrected as follows: In Appendix 2, Table 2, footnote 2 is the information
"http://gis.uba.de/webseite/depo1" by specifying
"http://gis.uba.de/website/depo1/" to replace. “In the meantime both links are no longer accessible.
The only way to make sure that content is at least searchable is to make copies of the web pages im Internet Archive. The US non-profit initiative is the best resource for older online information from German authorities. Wikipedia also works with her. But what if the organization is cut off for some reason at some point?
German internet users would then have to hope that the German National Library would still have a copy of official websites. The DNB has been crawling most federal agency websites for a number of years. However, the copies are not accessible on the Internet, but only in the reading rooms of the National Library. The reason for this: Copyright.
The maintenance of official online knowledge is therefore still precarious. Before numerous website managers in the federal administration are faced with the question of how to deal with the renaming of the authority domain after a change of government in the fall, they should calmly read through the explanation of the World Wide Web Consortium about what makes cool URIs. It’s easy to find on the web. The link to her has been stable for 23 years.