NLPC has uncovered a plan by the White House New Media operation to hire a technology vendor to conduct a massive, secret effort to harvest personal information on millions of Americans from social networking websites.
The information to be captured includes comments, tag lines, emails, audio, and video. The targeted sites include Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr and others – any space where the White House “maintains a presence.”
In the course of investigating procurement by the White House New Media office, NLPC discovered a 51-page solicitation of bids that was filed on Friday, August 21, 2009. Filed as Solicitation # WHO-S-09-0003, it is posted at FedBizzOps.com. Click here to download a 51-page pdf of the solicitation.
While the solicitation specifies a 12-month contract, it allows for seven one-year extensions. It specifies no dollar cap. Other troubling issues include :
extremely broad secrecy terms preventing the vendor from disclosing to the public or the media what information is being captured and archived (page 7, “Restriction Against Disclosure”)
wholesale capturing of comments by non-White House staff on publicly accessible sites
capturing of content of any type (text, graphics, audio, or video)
capturing of comments by both Obama critics and supporters, with no restriction as to how the White House would use the information.
This is the third controversy involving the White House internet operations in less than a month. First, Obama’s New Media operation asked supporters to send information about critics of the White House health care effort to a White House email. This provoked a storm of criticism and the White House retreated. Then large number of people complained of getting email spam from the White House supporting the President’s health care position. Again the White House was forced to back down.
Now the same people at the White House are at it again with an ambitious plan to harvest huge amounts of information from the web and specifically social networking sites.
Given the White House’s recent abuse of its New Media operations, this huge, new secretive program is yet another sign that this Administration is at best indifferent to privacy rights and at worst prepared to violate civil liberties for political purposes.
Perhaps anticipating negative reaction to the invasiveness of the plan, a justification is provided in a Q&A. section of the solicitation. Question #9 reads:
The Presidential Records Act does not require the storage or archiving of non-EOP content, as such is there a specific reason as to why the content provided on EOP related websites in the form of comments is included in these archiving procedures?
Answer: The PRA includes in its definition of presidential records content ―received by PRA components and personnel. Out of an abundance of caution, we are treating comments made by non-PRA personnel on sites on which a PRA component has a presence as presidential records, requiring them to be captured or sampled.
Of course, this interpretation of the Presidential Records Act is so expansive that virtually any communication mentioning the president or the Administration could become subject to collection and archiving under the Act. This is not out of an “abundance of caution,” but out of an over-abundance of power. President Obama should make sure that this plan goes no further.