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New Archives Policy Could Include Twitter Too

A recent memo from President Obama asking for federal agencies to improve archiving processes of digital records such as e-mail and social media begs the question of how this can be done, according to a Federal News Radio report.

While the president asked agencies to improve archiving methods with measures such as being more detailed and accurate, increased transparency and even designating a records officer, some are asking how exactly can a tweet, for example, be stored and for what means.

As evident with talk of big data and an increased need for storage measures, agencies may face hurdles in figuring out how to store the vast amounts of information embedded on agency Facebook pages, YouTube accounts, emails and Twitter, for example.

“The challenge is the volumes of records being generated at agencies is increasing enormously and the number of formats,” said Paul Wester, chief records officer at National Archives and Records Administration, in an interview with Federal News Radio. However, Wester indicated that it is possible to do so and the technologies exist.

NARA found in a recent survey that most agencies are not managing records well and that while some are saving the records, they are not applying necessary means to access them. Although the measures taken to save this information seem unsatisfactory to NARA, the group has previously insisted the importance of saving such communication as e-mails and tweets.

“This stuff is important for the public to hold the government accountable and tell the whole story,” said Anne Weisman, chief counsel for watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, according to Federal News Radio.

While some information on Twitter and Facebook is duplicated across multiple avenues, NARA suggests that the combination of sources has some sort of historical value, according to the report.

Federal News Radio cites job searchers posting complaints on Facebook regarding problems with USAJobs as an event that is noteworthy and worth saving. However, not all e-mails, tweets or posts are worth recording. That big data issue comes to mind as reason for why not.

“It doesn’t matter where they’re tweeting or doing other sorts of collaborative work, but it does matter that the content that they generate while using these tools is captured within their record-keeping systems within their agencies,” Wester said. “Therein lies the challenge that we want to explore.”

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