It seems to me that using 3rd party social applications can be a great boon for government in communicating and collaborating with its constituents. However, when a government entity uses Facebook, Twitter, blogs or other (free or hosted) applications, at what point does the agency become responsible to fulfill FOIA requests to posted comments, images, etc?
And has anyone explored an agency’s liability associated with a 3rd party’s cooperation in an FOIA request?
For example, our local government would like to experiment with Twitter to broadcast mobile alerts to followers. I would assume twittter stores all posts from users, but for how long? And how accessible would those logs be to agency staff and counsel if the need came about? Maybe a 3rd party keeps those posts on a server for three years, which may as well be a geologic eon in the digital world. But my state regulation may require five years of records retention. How can my agency best close the gap?
Are protective laws like FOIA the reason so many government agencies feel compelled to spend time and money “recreating the wheel” with in-house development or purchasing 3rd party applications that run-in house, rather than taking the plunge into applications? Maybe we’d be better off negotiating government terms of service agreements?
Okay – now the other edge of the sword. As a classically trained journalist and current advocate for online citizen services, I can appreciate the balance that needs to be struck between “getting the job done simply and quickly” and government accountability. I sincerely believe that we should “Trust but verify.” Each week there seems to be another headline of a government official accused of wrongdoing. FOIA and other guardian laws are vital in protecting citizens and communities from the very government they elect or appoint.
Has your agency taken the time to draft guidance policy for staff or investigated FOIA liability and social media? Anyone want to volunteer to be the test case?