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Big Br”O”ther keepin’ tabs

September 3, 2009


Anyone who posts comments on the White House’s Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter pages will have their statements captured and permanently archived by the federal government, according to a plan that the White House is now seeking a contractor to carry out.

The Executive Office of the President is looking for a private contractor to capture and archive comments and information posted on social networking and new media sites where the White House has established a presence. While the Presidential Records Act (PRA) generally requires that the administration preserve information generated by the president and his staff, the White House says that in seeking to collect and preserve comments made by common citizens on social networking sites it is acting “out of an abundance of caution” to comply with the law.

In mid-August, the White House put out a “request for quotation”[PDF file] (RFQ)which seeks bids from private firms for the project. Under the terms stated by the White House, the contractor would have broad responsibilities in collecting information from White House related Web pages.

The RFQ for bids says the contractor is to “capture, store, and extract” information that will be transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for permanent storage. According to the White House proposal, the information involved will include the “capture of comments and publicly visible tags posted by users” on publicly accessible Web sites where the White House has established a presence.

The document says that the White House “currently maintains” seven sites.,,,,,,

The document also says, “The contractor shall include the information posted by non-White House persons on publicly-accessible web sites where the White House maintains a presence.” This would include “both comments posted on pages created by the White House and messages sent to White House accounts on those web sites.”

The RFQ says: “Currently, the government team is capturing the data and content.” It does not specify, however, whether the data and content that is currently being captured by the government includes the comments posted by citizens on the White House social networking sites.

The White House did not respond to questions from about this RFQ and whether it has already started capturing citizens’ comments posted on the White House’s Facebook, Myspace, YouTube and Twitter pages.

In the question and answer section on the last page of the RFQ, it says: “The Presidential Records Act does not require the storage or archiving of non-EOP content, as such is there a specific reason as to why the content provided on EOP related websites in the form of comments is included in these archiving procedures?”

The answer: “PRA includes in its definition of presidential records content ‘received’ by PRA components and personnel. Out of an abundance of caution, we are treating comments made by non-White House personnel on sites on which a White House component has a presence as presidential records, requiring them to be captured or sampled.”

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