Twitter and Government Transparency/Illustration by Tom McKeith Twitter and Government Transparency Illustration by Tom McKeith

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.

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Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.