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.

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