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Bull on That

Obama lawyers prohibit staff from using instant messaging in the White House
(Faiz Shakir, Think Progress, 18 Jan 2009)

Politico’s Ben Smith reports that Obama lawyers broke some bad news to the incoming White House staff at a briefing Friday morning: they will not be allowed to communicate with each other and the outside world through the use of instant messaging. “They just told us flat out we couldn’t IM in the White House,” complained one senior staffer. The reason? The Presidential Records Act would likely require the disclosure of “instant messages discussing government business.”

This is crap. There are plenty of ways to archive IMs. They could meet the requirements of the act. The problem here is not that the communication can’t be archived, it is that they want these communications to be “off the record”. Well too effin bad. You are in the executive branch, your actions SHOULD be recorded for posterity, and for prosecuting your asses if you get out of line.

If anything, I’d be in favor of strengthening the records act to go beyond the current requirements for retention of written documents (including email and IM) to also require full audio and video recording of *all* executive branch meetings, discussions, etc… at both high and low levels… with a variety of protections regarding when and how they could be released to take into account the sensitive nature of many of those conversations, but never-the-less preserving the events for later historians (and prosecutors if necessary).

Yes, people say that would make people less likely to speak their actual minds in such meetings. My view, if knowing your words would eventually be made public keeps you from recommending (or doing) stupid or illegal things, so much the better.

In any case, a President advocating transparency should not be telling his staff NOT to use IM. He should be telling them to please use IM, as it is efficient and a good way of communicating, but to keep in mind that everything they communicate that way will be permanently archived and eventually made public.

3 comments to Bull on That

  • ivanbou

    this white house is in 1970’s tech. mode. First no handhelds, now no IM’s? As sam has mentioned, there are ways of archiving such communications, the IT industry has had solutions for this issue for a long time, this is stupid…

  • Brandy

    Perhaps they really just don’t want public IM’s from the President that say, “OMG, ROTFLMAO. KK. TTFN! :-)”

  • Abulsme

    The thing is, Brandy is sort of right here. It isn’t about the technology at all. There are technological solutions for both the archiving and security issues with IM (and email). It is all about not wanting to have what might be said that way as a matter of public record.

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