Update: Consumer Watchdog Will Testify at Thursday Web 2.0 Hearing

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    The House Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on Information Policy has reversed itself and invited John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog to testify at Thursday’s hearing on federal agencies’ use of Web 2.0 technologies.

    The invitation to Simpson is dated Tuesday, one day after a subcommittee staff member informed Republican lawmakers that the hearing would feature only one panel of all government witnesses. Simpson is the lead advocate on Consumer Watchdog’s Google Privacy and Accountability Project and has been a harsh critic of the search giant in the past. He was also the only witness requested by Republican lawmakers.

    The hearing is expected to discuss the challenges agencies face when making use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the public. According to a copy of his prepared testimony obtained by Hillicon Valley, Greg Wilshusen, director of information security issues at the Government Accountability Office, will detail multiple challenges facing agencies including privacy, records retention and data security.

    “For example, a government agency that chooses to establish a presence on a third party provider’s service, such as Facebook, could have limited control over what is done with its information once posted on the electronic venue,” writes Wilshusen. “Privacy could be compromised if clear limits are not set on how the government uses personal information to which it has access in social networking environments.”

    Wilshusen writes that members of the public interacting with the government via Web 2.0 media might provide personal information for specific government purposes and might not understand the information could be collected and stored by third-party commercial providers as well.

    “It also may not be clear as to whose privacy policy applies when a third party manages content on a government agency Web site,” he writes.

    Wilshusen also notes that the National Archives and Records Administration has already indicated content created by interactive software on federal government websites is considered part of the agency’s records and should be preserved as such.

    “These requirements may be challenging for agencies because the types of records involved when information is collected via Web 2.0 technologies may not be clear. … The potential complexity of these decisions and the resulting record-keeping requirements and processes can be daunting to agencies,” he said.

    Ranking member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has pressed both the White House and Google for details on a May incident in which Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McGlaughlin used his personal Gmail account to communicate with his former colleagues about policy issues, in violation of both the Presidential Records Act and an ethics pledge instituted by President Obama last year. He is expected to raise the issue again at Thursday’s hearing.

    Issa has expressed concern that White House staffers might be contacting lobbyists using private accounts to get around the law; that allegation was seemingly backed up by a report from the New York Times last month. In response the liberal watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called for the House Oversight Committee chaired by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) to investigate.

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