The Trouble With Friending the White House

In the great wired tradition of his campaign, President Obama has opened White House accounts on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr (which delivered this photo, an instant classic). The accounts are part of the President’s attempt at making the government more open and more accountable; special deals with the General Services Administration (GSA) mean that social networks will have turnkey programs set up for other federal agencies as well.

But do we want to be Facebook friends with our government?

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In a worst case scenario, privacy advocates say that adding as a “friend” will give it the same access granted to other individuals. That would make a user’s data available to White House webmasters, who as The New York Times points out, wouldn’t be barred by any laws from using that information to advance tax audits or build a criminal investigation.

The White House says that’s not the intention of its program, and points out that users can restrict any friend from seeing valuable information. There are guidelines in place, says the GSA, to prevent federal employees from gathering information from a citizen’s profile page.

But the piece of legislation most germane to the issue, the Privacy Act of 1974, doesn’t discuss how data collected by outside companies like social networks can be used by federal agencies. Which means that if the Obama Admininstration hopes to continue gaining favorable appeal from its Web initiatives, it will have to come up with one serious privacy policy.

[via Should the White House Be a Place for Friends?]