In the event of war, can Svalbard protect the entire world’s private data?

The Ancient Library of Alexandria was the foremost storehouse of knowledge in the ancient world … until the Romans burned it down in 48 BCE. Tens of thousands of manuscripts were lost, depriving the ancient world of its single greatest archive of knowledge.

Could the same thing happen in the 21st century? One Norwegian archiving company says it can, and the only way to prevent a global information cataclysm is to send your data to Svalbard.


Today, there’s no longer a single, centralized warehouse of cultural treasures that can be wiped out of existence by an invading army wielding fire. Instead, the “fire” has grown a whole lot more apocalyptic.

Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weaponry can take down a nation’s electrical grid, and a nuclear bomb can level whole cities, effectively wiping out the digital records of everyone from average citizens to entire governments.

Taking inspiration from Svalbard’s so-called Doomsday Seed Vault, Piql Preservation Services is trying to create an apocalypse-proof library in the event of a localized — or even global — catastrophe. Their Arctic World Archive, an offline data vault located in a former coal mine on the island of Spitsbergen in Svalbard, opened for business in March 2017.

According to Wired, “the Arctic World Archive will store key documents, books and other files on photosensitive film held in protective boxes, a technique Piql says it’s tested to survive for at least 500 years and believes will last for 1,000.”

Though the Global Seed Vault notoriously flooded just three months after the Arctic World Archive launched, Piql claims their facility is disaster-proof. And, because the vault is both deep underground and situated at a far-remove from the “political and physical instabilities in the rest of the world [it will] safeguard the globe’s most valuable data from future catastrophes, wars and cyberattacks, as well as solving the challenges of future technology obsolescence.”

Text and digital documents, images, sound files, and videos are all fair game for archival. The Arctic World Archive will also prevent a dystopian new world order from re-writing history to suit its nefarious agenda.

“Aside from protecting data to be read by those who survive doomsday, the data is unalterable — meaning the backup can’t be changed, handy for keeping facts from disappearing down the memory hole,” Wired optimistically notes.

Will it work? Here’s hoping we never have to find out.

the delve