When Is a Tweet a National Archive?

Some White House tweets, posts and uploads may not be preserved

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AFP/Getty Images

    The nation's archivist said Tuesday he's uncomfortable with allowing White House staff members to decide whether their tweets, emails and Facebook messages from personal accounts are work-related and must be saved.

            David Ferriero, archivist of the United States, told a House hearing that official communications sent from a presidential employee's personal device, using personal accounts, must be preserved under the law. However, a staff member gets to determine what is official.
          
    Brook Colangelo, the Obama administration's chief information officer, said there's no way to automatically capture communications from personal accounts unless they are accessed through a government-issued computer or personal device, such as an iPad or BlackBerry. He said the administration relies on periodic training to help employees make the right decision.
           
    Asked by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., whether he was comfortable with a voluntary system replied, "Any time there is human intervention, then I'm not comfortable.''
           
    The White House automatically captures and retains all communications sent to and from government computers and government-issued personal devices. But only the president and vice president can determine which White House records must be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration when the administration ends.
           
    Holding up an iPad, Issa chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee  told the White House's Colangelo: "People carry a product that circumvents your entire system'' of preserving records.
           
    "I'm not sure how we would collect data from personal accounts,'' Colangelo said. He added that White House staff members cannot access their personal accounts from their government computers and government-issued personal devices, a policy that is stricter than in many workplaces.
           
    In a Bush administration controversy, political advisers to the president used their Republican National Committee e-mail accounts to conduct official government business. Issa turned that example around, telling Colangelo that Obama administration staff members using personal accounts and personal devices "could be emailing the DNC (Democratic National Committee) back and forth ... from the White House and you would not be able to capture that, correct?''
           
    "That's correct sir,'' Colangelo said.
           
    Issa, a frequent critic of the administration, added, ``I'm not after the president. I'm after the changes in technology and whether or not we're equipped to deal with them.'' He said unsaved records from personal accounts might be used by former White House staff members writing "kiss and tell'' books.
          
     The ranking committee Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, urged Issa to rejuvenate a bill designed to ensure that presidential records are made public in a timely manner. It would require current and former presidents to raise any objections to release of records within 90 days of notification that a Freedom of Information request had been submitted.
           
    Another provision would require organizations that raise funds to build presidential libraries to disclose information about their donors.

    Key parts of the legislation passed the House in the previous Congress, but never were enacted into law.