Obama Administration Data Mining Social Networks: Privacy Threat or Overblown Hyperbole?

by on September 2, 2009 · 29 comments

A number of conservative blogs have picked up on reports that the Obama administration is looking to data mine users on social networking sites. Reports CNS News:flag_at_whitehouse_gov

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.

Whenever government is collecting information about private citizens, we should be concerned. But this controversy smells a lot like privacy fear-mongering, even though it involves government. If you post a comment to an “official” Obama administration page on a social networking site, it seems only natural that it’s fair game for data mining. The same goes if you post a video response on a publicly accessible site.

If you’re posting controversial statements online under your real name for the public to see, what do you expect will happen? Anybody in the world who has an Internet connection can log your postings, so why shouldn’t government officials be able to do the same? Until government starts pressuring Facebook or Myspace to hand over data that’s being collected on an involuntary basis, I don’t see a whole lot here to worry about.

This controversy, and the flap over flag@whitehouse.gov from a few weeks back, raise another interesting question: should Congress reexamine the Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978? This is the law that governs Presidential record-keeping. According to some commentators, if the administration solicits data on its critics, it is obligated under the PRA to retain that data indefinitely. I haven’t read the law, but at first glance it appears that it may have some serious deficiencies. This is is hardly surprising, of course, given that the Internet — let alone social networks — didn’t even exist when the PRA was enacted in 1978.

  • http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_sat1.htm Satan's Throne

    Big brother is always watching! He never stopped.

  • http://twitter.com/Tanapseudes Thomas J Hansknecht

    I got an email from Twitter sent from White House News saying they were following my tweets. All hyperlinks led directly to whitehouse.gov. Is this datamining by the Whitehouse? I can send the email. Thanks

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  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    Anytime you post anything on the it is permanent (of sorts) and can be used by many parties. Focusing on the government collection of data is misplaced. As Ryan writes: “But this controversy smells a lot like privacy fear-mongering, even though it involves government.”

    To rephrase the quote: “Anyone who posts comments on the [Fill in the Blank] Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter pages will have their statements captured and permanently archived by [Fill in the Blank], according to a plan that the [Fill in the Blank] is now seeking a contractor to carry out.”

  • MikeRT

    It all depends on what they are doing. If the feds are archiving what is posted on their sections of these sites, that's one thing. If they end up crawling all over the profiles and buddy lists of those who posted something there, and do so continuously, then that is intolerable.

  • andyinsdca

    The fundamental purpose of the 3rd amendment didn't have to do with quartering troops, but the fact that the soldier living in your house was there as a way to intimidate and watch the residents of the house. The mere presence of the reporting mechanism flag@whitehouse.gov is simply a method to intimidate people who are speaking out against Obama's plan. Yes, anything you say on Facebook/twitter/in the bar/etc is fair game.

    What is not “fair game” is being reported to the White House (and what, exactly are they doing with these reports?)

  • http://twitter.com/Tanapseudes Thomas J Hansknecht

    Remove last name that was posted.

  • andyinsdca

    The fundamental purpose of the 3rd amendment didn't have to do with quartering troops, but the fact that the soldier living in your house was there as a way to intimidate and watch the residents of the house. The mere presence of the reporting mechanism flag@whitehouse.gov is simply a method to intimidate people who are speaking out against Obama's plan. Yes, anything you say on Facebook/twitter/in the bar/etc is fair game.

    What is not “fair game” is being reported to the White House (and what, exactly are they doing with these reports?)

  • http://twitter.com/Tanapseudes Thomas J Hansknecht

    Remove posts by user

  • http://twitter.com/Tanapseudes Thomas J Hansknecht

    I

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    Anytime you post anything on a website it is permanent (of sorts) and can be used by many parties. So be careful concerning what you post, it may come back and haunt you. Focusing on the government collection of data is misplaced. As Ryan writes: “But this controversy smells a lot like privacy fear-mongering, even though it involves government.”

    To rephrase the quote: “Anyone who posts comments on the [Fill in the Blank] Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter pages will have their statements captured and permanently archived by [Fill in the Blank], according to a plan that the [Fill in the Blank] is now seeking a contractor to carry out.”

  • MikeRT

    It all depends on what they are doing. If the feds are archiving what is posted on their sections of these sites, that's one thing. If they end up crawling all over the profiles and buddy lists of those who posted something there, and do so continuously, then that is intolerable.

  • andyinsdca

    The fundamental purpose of the 3rd amendment didn't have to do with quartering troops, but the fact that the soldier living in your house was there as a way to intimidate and watch the residents of the house. The mere presence of the reporting mechanism flag@whitehouse.gov is simply a method to intimidate people who are speaking out against Obama's plan. Yes, anything you say on Facebook/twitter/in the bar/etc is fair game.

    What is not “fair game” is being reported to the White House (and what, exactly are they doing with these reports?)

  • http://twitter.com/Tanapseudes Thomas J Hansknecht

    Remove posts by user

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