A White House memo released last week takes an interesting view of social media. What it appears to mean is that web 2.0 and social media conversations and communications are considered equivalent to in-person public meetings. The memo was issued in order to clarify the impact of the Paperwork Reduction Act on government social media and web-based interactive technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Yelp, blogs and Wikis. In an attempt to implement a Presidential Memorandum issues January 21, 2009-calling for a system of transparency , public participation and collaboration, that memo instructed government departments and agencies to take actions that would allow for such transparency, including "review existing OMB policies, such as Paperwork Reduction Act guidance and privacy guidance, to identify impediments to open government and to the use of new technologies and, where necessary, issue clarifying guidance and/or propose revisions to such policies, to promote greater openness in government." The memo issued last week notes that social media use by government agencies is encouraged in order to engage the public. It goes on to include social media communication in this light as equivalent to public meetings stating, "...OMB (Office of Management & Budget) considers interactive meeting tools-including but not limited to public conference calls, webinars, blogs, discussion boards, forums, message boards, chat sessions, social networks, and online communities-to be equivalent to in-person."
The memo goes on to address the collection of e-mail addresses and other information:
OMB does not consider mailing addresses collected for agency mailing lists to be information subject to the PRA (Paperwork Reduction Act.) Similarly, an agency is not collecting information when it collects email addresses for agency updates, alerts, publications, or email subscription services; mobile phone numbers for text notification lists; or addresses for RSS feeds, which allow individuals to customize and subscribe to updates from websites. If, however, the agency requests a member of the public to provide additional information (e.g., age, sex, race/ethnicity, employment, or citizenship status) beyond what is necessary to ensure proper transmission of responses, the collection of that additional information is covered under the PRA. As with non-electronic mailing lists, the use of email lists to survey subscribers (about, for example, satisfaction with government program design) is an information collection under the PRA.
The full text of the White House Memo is available through this link. Further discussion is available on our Legal Technology Blog,