Access and Feeds

Records Management: Government Agencies Need Policy Around Social Media

By Dick Weisinger

Despite the challenges that government agencies face in adopting new web-based technologies like Web 2.0 and Social Media, adoption of these technologies within the government is increasing.  Privacy, security, records management and freedom of information have all been big stumbling blocks for government in coming up with a strategy for using Social Media.

For example, the Privacy Act of 1974 applies to Social Media sites and it limits the amount of information that the government can be collect about individuals.  It isn’t clear to what extent government web sites that allow users to post information and comments may be in conflict with this law.

The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) mandates that agencies secure the information which they collect or maintain on information systems which they operate or which are operated on their behalf.  Agencies are also bound by the Freedom of Information Act and need to be able to respond to requests for information.  It isn’t clear to what extent these laws apply to information posted via Web 2.0 or Social Media.

Federal agencies are also bound by regulations mandating records management.  Integrating records management retention capabilities into Social Media sites could be very complicated because that kind of information is typically very transient due to frequent content updates and changes.  It isn’t clear whether comment made on Web 2.0 sites by citizens needs to be included as part of the public record.  It becomes even more difficult if there is a possibility that comments made on third party sites like Facebook or Twitter could also be classified as information needed to be retained as records.

And to add to the complexity, there are balancing regulations like the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995.

Despite the challenges though, nearly all major federal government agencies are now using Social Media to some extent.  Gregory Wilshusen, director of information security issues for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reported that 22 of the 24 largest government agencies now use Social Media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

NARA, the National Archives, is now trying to come up with a policy statement around Social Media that will clarify for federal agencies exactly what their responsibilities are around records management and retention of Social Media information.  NARA also plans to recommend how agencies can engage in the use of Social Media.  NARA is collecting their recommendations into a guidance statement that is expected to be published before the end of September.  Included with the recommendation will be a survey of how Web 2.0 and Social Media is currently being used by federal agencies.

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