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Government Wrestles With Social Media Records Retention Policies

The National Archives is trying to navigate complex regulations that require capturing and storing all sorts of content in the age of social media, cloud computing, and seemingly endless storage.

Noveck also said that as storage becomes cheaper and cheaper, especially with the advent of cloud computing, worry about when and how to delete government records becomes less important, and she urged more work on data standardization and the use of data standards to avoid costly storage system upgrades as old data formats become obsolete.

After her speech, one conference attendee asked how government agencies should turn dynamic data into records. She said that tools that generate or allow dynamic data to be created -- such as wikis -- should be required to have automatic versioning.

Plenty of guidance on how to keep electronic records already exists, including new social media records. "We have the guidance and awareness, but then we have to figure out how to execute," Wester said. For example, there's guidance for crawling and harvesting Web sites, using PDF capture, making sure to use specific data formats like HTML or XML, a document released almost three years ago called "Implications of Recent Web Technologies for Records" that covers tools like wikis and RSS, and an online Toolkit for Managing Electronic Records.

Still, though, that's the National Archives. Federal agencies still have to implement that guidance. Plenty of challenges remain, including what records to keep, what to do with material created by nongovernment employees or posted on private-sector Web sites, when long-term preservation of online records is important, and how to use limited resources to deal with increasingly limitless online content. None of these questions has an easy or one-size-fits all answer, the event's speakers said.

Records managers are still worrying about exactly how to manage e-mail records, said Jason Baron, director of litigation for the National Archives and Records Administration. That alone should be a sign that the government won't figure out what to do with social media and cloud computing records anytime soon.

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