Government Technology

Twitter and Government Transparency



February 16, 2010 By

Social networking technologies are creating potential challenges for government transparency. As more agency employees use Twitter, Facebook and similar external sites, some state and local IT officials are asking if those communications should be archived for public viewing. The problem is that agencies don't know how to archive communications made on third-party social networks. For now, CIOs are delaying this puzzler because the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has no mandates related to them. But Melinda Catapano, city records manager for Grand Junction, Colo., who also is a lawyer, predicts that courts will eventually force agencies to provide this data.

Examining the potential risks of this issue could help CIOs discern the appropriate priority level for solving it.

The Problem Approaches

Catapano follows legal trends closely and thinks a mandate from the courts could be imminent. "There are so many ways a court could say this is connected to official agency work, ergo you better be able to produce that record," she said.

As citizens become accustomed to accessing more types of communication archives, social network archives will be a logical expectation, said Elayne Starkey, chief security officer of Delaware and FOIA coordinator for the state's Department of Technology and Information.

Catapano pointed to a judgment from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review. In City of Ontario v. Quon, the court held that the Ontario, Calif., Police Department violated an officer's privacy rights by examining an archive of text messages on his city-issued cell phone. If the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the circuit court's decision and says producing an archive of employee text messages is legitimate, that could have implications on other electronic communications, in Catapano's view.

"To the courts, it may well be a series of short leaps from text messaging via pagers to electronic communications in general to electronic communications via external sources," Catapano said.

Twitter and Facebook could easily be among those "external sources," according to Catapano.

One difference is that state and local governments currently have no mechanism for archiving external social networking posts. By contrast, a mechanism does exist for retrieving text message archives if that becomes required.

Catapano admitted that she, like many other CIOs, didn't have a clue as to how to archive external social networking posts.

"It would probably be a good master's thesis because everybody needs those answers and everybody seems to be avoiding the problem," Catapano remarked.

Michele Hovet, IT director of Arvada, Colo., agreed that the challenge of archiving social networking posts was on the horizon. "Right now, we're drawing a line by policy. If it's hosted on an external entity that we don't have control over, we will not include it in an open records request. We will not have to archive it," Hovet said. "In the future will that change as these tools are used more and more? I think it will."

Riding E-Mail's Coattails

Since technology already exists for archiving e-mails, Peter Larson, senior manager of IT operations for Douglas County, Colo., suggested that e-mail might be the mechanism IT departments use for storing social network postings. For example, he said an agency could easily attach a program to its e-mail system letting employees post to social networking sites through their government-issued e-mail accounts. Larson theorized that the user experience wouldn't be all that awkward. After all, agency workers already have their e-mail accounts handy anyway. Why couldn't they track communications on Twitter, and then quickly click their Outlook tabs and send necessary tweets via e-mail?

Services performing such an e-mail-to-social networking site function exist on the Web for free, but Larson said an agency would need to build its own to ensure reliability.

"If you were going to be on the hook for producing that archive, you would have to implement some sort of system you could have confidence in," Larson said.

It's also conceivable that social networks could e-mail copies of postings to users. For example, e.Republic, Government Technology's publisher, runs message boards for a local government collaboration program called Digital Communities, which send precisely that type of e-mail to members.

But only time will show how local governments tackle this question as lawyers enforce it as a priority.

 


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Comments

Chris54    |    Commented January 19, 2010

Not much can be said in a tweet, but some want them to be archived, while a million phone conversations go unmonitored. Its not the open public discussions that's the problem.

Chris54    |    Commented January 19, 2010

Not much can be said in a tweet, but some want them to be archived, while a million phone conversations go unmonitored. Its not the open public discussions that's the problem.

Chris54    |    Commented January 19, 2010

Not much can be said in a tweet, but some want them to be archived, while a million phone conversations go unmonitored. Its not the open public discussions that's the problem.

Kristin    |    Commented January 19, 2010

I just posted a blog on a solution to this problem. A new company, Socialware, has middleware that will archive social networking as well as help control it. Take a look at the blog post for more detailed info & an interview w/ the CIO. We specifically talk about what this middleware means for governments - http://blogs.msdn.com/bright_side_of_government/archive/2010/01/11/what-social-middleware-means-for-government.aspx

Kristin    |    Commented January 19, 2010

I just posted a blog on a solution to this problem. A new company, Socialware, has middleware that will archive social networking as well as help control it. Take a look at the blog post for more detailed info & an interview w/ the CIO. We specifically talk about what this middleware means for governments - http://blogs.msdn.com/bright_side_of_government/archive/2010/01/11/what-social-middleware-means-for-government.aspx

Kristin    |    Commented January 19, 2010

I just posted a blog on a solution to this problem. A new company, Socialware, has middleware that will archive social networking as well as help control it. Take a look at the blog post for more detailed info & an interview w/ the CIO. We specifically talk about what this middleware means for governments - http://blogs.msdn.com/bright_side_of_government/archive/2010/01/11/what-social-middleware-means-for-government.aspx

Blane Warrene    |    Commented January 19, 2010

This leads to the question are the government CIO's entertaining reviews of social media solutions with a feature set built for organizations and business?

Blane Warrene    |    Commented January 19, 2010

This leads to the question are the government CIO's entertaining reviews of social media solutions with a feature set built for organizations and business?

Blane Warrene    |    Commented January 19, 2010

This leads to the question are the government CIO's entertaining reviews of social media solutions with a feature set built for organizations and business?

susan    |    Commented January 20, 2010

Why stop at phone calls? What about face to face conversations? Place recording devices in all government employees offices, common areas, and require that employees/elected officials wear audio monitoring devices when not on campus. Obviously I'm being facetious. It seems that a line drawn at publication offers a useful level of clarity.

susan    |    Commented January 20, 2010

Why stop at phone calls? What about face to face conversations? Place recording devices in all government employees offices, common areas, and require that employees/elected officials wear audio monitoring devices when not on campus. Obviously I'm being facetious. It seems that a line drawn at publication offers a useful level of clarity.

susan    |    Commented January 20, 2010

Why stop at phone calls? What about face to face conversations? Place recording devices in all government employees offices, common areas, and require that employees/elected officials wear audio monitoring devices when not on campus. Obviously I'm being facetious. It seems that a line drawn at publication offers a useful level of clarity.

mark    |    Commented January 21, 2010

Unfortunately, it's not just Twitter but all social media that public sector CIO's need to be concerned with. Of course the challenge there is that new technology and SM sites pop up everyday so chasing the solution with middleware is like a dog chasing his own tail.

mark    |    Commented January 21, 2010

Unfortunately, it's not just Twitter but all social media that public sector CIO's need to be concerned with. Of course the challenge there is that new technology and SM sites pop up everyday so chasing the solution with middleware is like a dog chasing his own tail.

mark    |    Commented January 21, 2010

Unfortunately, it's not just Twitter but all social media that public sector CIO's need to be concerned with. Of course the challenge there is that new technology and SM sites pop up everyday so chasing the solution with middleware is like a dog chasing his own tail.

Barb Chamberlain    |    Commented January 26, 2010

As a just-in-case, I run backups of our official campus Twitter account, @WSUSpokane, using backupmytweets.com. This creates an HTML file I save to my computer. For our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/WSUSpokane, I do a simple "save as" and save the file, which shows both what we posted and the comments of our fans. Pretty much everything we post in these spaces links to another source that is the full communication (typically a news release, video, or Web page). For now, these are dissemination tools as much as they are discussion tools. We will do the same kind of image capture when we establish a blog to capture the comments received. I'd rather be prepared with systems and a regular backup schedule (which I need anyway, to evaluate our engagement in these spaces) than wait until someone tells me I should have been doing this all along.

@BarbChamberlain Director of Communications and Public Affairs Washington State University Spokane @WSUSpokane www.spokane.wsu.edu

Barb Chamberlain    |    Commented January 26, 2010

As a just-in-case, I run backups of our official campus Twitter account, @WSUSpokane, using backupmytweets.com. This creates an HTML file I save to my computer. For our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/WSUSpokane, I do a simple "save as" and save the file, which shows both what we posted and the comments of our fans. Pretty much everything we post in these spaces links to another source that is the full communication (typically a news release, video, or Web page). For now, these are dissemination tools as much as they are discussion tools. We will do the same kind of image capture when we establish a blog to capture the comments received. I'd rather be prepared with systems and a regular backup schedule (which I need anyway, to evaluate our engagement in these spaces) than wait until someone tells me I should have been doing this all along.

@BarbChamberlain Director of Communications and Public Affairs Washington State University Spokane @WSUSpokane www.spokane.wsu.edu

Barb Chamberlain    |    Commented January 26, 2010

As a just-in-case, I run backups of our official campus Twitter account, @WSUSpokane, using backupmytweets.com. This creates an HTML file I save to my computer. For our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/WSUSpokane, I do a simple "save as" and save the file, which shows both what we posted and the comments of our fans. Pretty much everything we post in these spaces links to another source that is the full communication (typically a news release, video, or Web page). For now, these are dissemination tools as much as they are discussion tools. We will do the same kind of image capture when we establish a blog to capture the comments received. I'd rather be prepared with systems and a regular backup schedule (which I need anyway, to evaluate our engagement in these spaces) than wait until someone tells me I should have been doing this all along.

@BarbChamberlain Director of Communications and Public Affairs Washington State University Spokane @WSUSpokane www.spokane.wsu.edu

david    |    Commented March 3, 2010

While the method of saving tweets and posts to other external sites is definitely an issue, this article contains numerous errors or misrepresentations. First, FOIA only applies to federal records, not state and local government. Every state has its own open records or right to know law and the rules vary widely regarding what is public. Likewise, every state has its own records retention and disposition schedules which determine how long each type of record or record series must be saved. You don't need to worry much about archiving tweets if your retention schedule rules they are transitory and may be deleted immediately. I would work on some of the policy issues before getting too concerned about the technical requirements.

david    |    Commented March 3, 2010

While the method of saving tweets and posts to other external sites is definitely an issue, this article contains numerous errors or misrepresentations. First, FOIA only applies to federal records, not state and local government. Every state has its own open records or right to know law and the rules vary widely regarding what is public. Likewise, every state has its own records retention and disposition schedules which determine how long each type of record or record series must be saved. You don't need to worry much about archiving tweets if your retention schedule rules they are transitory and may be deleted immediately. I would work on some of the policy issues before getting too concerned about the technical requirements.

david    |    Commented March 3, 2010

While the method of saving tweets and posts to other external sites is definitely an issue, this article contains numerous errors or misrepresentations. First, FOIA only applies to federal records, not state and local government. Every state has its own open records or right to know law and the rules vary widely regarding what is public. Likewise, every state has its own records retention and disposition schedules which determine how long each type of record or record series must be saved. You don't need to worry much about archiving tweets if your retention schedule rules they are transitory and may be deleted immediately. I would work on some of the policy issues before getting too concerned about the technical requirements.

Adam    |    Commented March 19, 2010

Great article, and starting a discussion on how important this is a great idea. With FINRA's Regulatory Notice 10-06, we've seen the financial industry start taking on social media compliance.

Whether required by law or not, or still in a stage of exploring the possibilities of legislation, the archiving of social media is important from a data-leak standpoint, as well as reputation management.

If interested in social media archiving and supervision, check out Smarsh's social media archiving solution.

http://bit.ly/1LGHlo

Adam    |    Commented March 19, 2010

Great article, and starting a discussion on how important this is a great idea. With FINRA's Regulatory Notice 10-06, we've seen the financial industry start taking on social media compliance.

Whether required by law or not, or still in a stage of exploring the possibilities of legislation, the archiving of social media is important from a data-leak standpoint, as well as reputation management.

If interested in social media archiving and supervision, check out Smarsh's social media archiving solution.

http://bit.ly/1LGHlo

Adam    |    Commented March 19, 2010

Great article, and starting a discussion on how important this is a great idea. With FINRA's Regulatory Notice 10-06, we've seen the financial industry start taking on social media compliance.

Whether required by law or not, or still in a stage of exploring the possibilities of legislation, the archiving of social media is important from a data-leak standpoint, as well as reputation management.

If interested in social media archiving and supervision, check out Smarsh's social media archiving solution.

http://bit.ly/1LGHlo

Allen Voivod    |    Commented March 23, 2010

There are services like Backupify and SocialSafe which allow external social platform accounts like Facebook and Twitter to be archived. Backupify is what we're using internally and for clients right now.

Allen Voivod    |    Commented March 23, 2010

There are services like Backupify and SocialSafe which allow external social platform accounts like Facebook and Twitter to be archived. Backupify is what we're using internally and for clients right now.

Allen Voivod    |    Commented March 23, 2010

There are services like Backupify and SocialSafe which allow external social platform accounts like Facebook and Twitter to be archived. Backupify is what we're using internally and for clients right now.


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