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5/28/2009
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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.

At the National Archives and Records Administration's annual conference Thursday, one keynote speaker asked the crowd of several hundred how many of the archivists in attendance were sold on the use of social media. Only a smattering raised their hands.

Clearly, it's a challenge for the government to figure out how to navigate complex archival and e-discovery regulations that require it to capture and store all sorts of new content in the age of social media, cloud computing, and seemingly endless storage.

"The federal government is in a constantly evolving records environment," Adrienne Thomas, acting archivist of the United States, said in a luncheon speech to the conference. "These are exciting and challenging times." Obama administration ambitions toward cloud computing and more openness only make that issue more complicated.

"Many of us in the federal records administrations have struggled with the implications of this new direction," Paul Wester, director of modern records programs at the National Archives, said in an interview. "We deeply believe in transparency and openness, but we are concerned about FOIA, HIPAA, the Privacy Act, personally identifiable information, and compliance with the Disability Act and Federal Records Act."

In a morning keynote address, Beth Noveck, deputy chief technology officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the lead official in President Obama's open government initiative, tried to reassure the records managers at the conference.

She mentioned a new Web site designed around the White House's open government initiative, which asks the public to contribute ideas that will eventually lead to a new policy on openness, including a category on records management. She also said that the National Archives and Records Administration was heavily involved in crafting Obama's transparency policy.

However, in other areas, audience response made it clear that some White House policies may be at odds with where some archivists stand today. Noveck admitted that though cloud computing is a top initiative of federal CIO Vivek Kundra, there are plenty of kinks to work out, especially in terms of records management issues like privacy and security. "It's a very big issue for government in terms of someone else to have control of our stuff," she said to guffaws and whispers of "You think?" from the audience.

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