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4/29/2011
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Congress To Question White House On Digital Communications

A House committee will consider whether social-networking communications of White House staffers should be preserved according to the Presidential Records Act of 1978.

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A House committee next week will question the Obama administration about whether it's keeping adequate records of officials' and staffers' digital communication on social-networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing scheduled next week will address how the Presidential Records Act of 1978 applies to presidential recordkeeping of digital communications on the Web. Like many electronic communications acts passed before the advent of the World Wide Web, it doesn't necessarily take into consideration the various forms of digital communication available now.

According to current White House policy, communication between the president and staffers and third parties on social-networking sites may be preserved as presidential records, according to a press release from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of committee, that was sent to InformationWeek via email.

For example, in terms of Twitter communication, the White House preserves tweets from official White House accounts as well as direct messages sent to those accounts and replies to those messages.

The White House policy also requires that staffers who receive emails on unofficial or personal email and Web accounts about official business must voluntarily preserve those emails as presidential records, according to Issa.

However, the policy is unclear about how to handle presidential staffers' use of Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging, mobile text messages, and other forms of digital communications in terms of the recordkeeping law. Moreover, it does not clarify what the use of unofficial accounts for official communication exactly means, according to Issa.

"We need to ensure that this president and future presidents are free to use new technologies to interact with the public, but that we preserve transparency and accountability in those interactions," he said in a press release about the hearing.

Lawmakers and administration officials are expected to discuss legislative and administrative ways to solve any problems with current policy or technology regarding the act and White House digital communication.

Witnesses scheduled to testify include Brook Colangelo, CIO of the White House Office of Administration, and David S. Ferriero, U.S. archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration.

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