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September 22, 2009
2 Min Read
Advertisers may be stalking you on Facebook and trying to learn your predilections, sexual, socio-political, and otherwise, but Big Brother isn't on the case quite yet.Recent breathless "investigative" reporting would have you believe that the White House is planning to track your every move on Facebook, MySpace and other social networks, for purposes known only to a select few.
According to the National Legal and Policy Center:
NLPC has uncovered a plan by the White House New Media operation to hire a technology vendor to conduct a massive, secret effort to harvest personal information on millions of Americans from social networking websites.
The Washington Times led with its own "exclusive" on the subject by chastising the president for going back on his own transparency pledge:
The White House is collecting and storing comments and videos placed on its social-networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube without notifying or asking the consent of the site users, a failure that appears to run counter to President Obama's promise of a transparent government and his pledge to protect privacy on the Internet.
The reality, however, is quite different, as White House new media director Macon Phillips noted in a blog post yesterday:
The White House is not archiving all content or activity across social networks where we have a page -- nor do we want to. The only content archived is what is voluntarily published on the White House's official pages on these sites or what is voluntarily sent to a White House account.
According to Phillips, the White House decided that the 1978 law that obliges president to preserve their correspondence includes not only email, but notifications and other messages delivered via social networks.
The [Presidential Records Act]… doesn't have a section on email. But everyone agrees that these electronic communications meet the Act's broad definition of presidential records, and that the White House is legally required to preserve them… [Comments on the White House's social media pages] are governed by the PRA.
Phillips also noted that the White House is "updating the language on [its] social media pages to make sure people know that their comments and messages to the White House are presidential records and may be archived."
While updating the language could seem like an admission that the White House failed to clue people in on an important condition, it should be no surprise to anyone at this point that essentially all postings to social networks -- especially Facebook -- are likely to be preserved for all eternity.
By the way, these stories were inspired by sloppy reading of a request for proposal the White House issued in order to hire a vendor that could accomplish the archiving in question; as far as I can tell, that RFP is still open.
The people's militia can stand down for the time being.
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