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
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
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
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.
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.