Chelsea Schilling is a commentary editor and staff writer for WND and a proud U.S. Army veteran. She has also worked as a news producer at USA Radio Network and as a news reporter for the Sacramento Union.More ↓Less ↑
The White House is hiring a contractor to harvest information about Americans from its pages on social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
The National Legal and Policy Center, or NLPC, revealed the White House New Media team is seeking to hire a technology vendor to collect data such as comments, tag lines, e-mail, audio and video from any place where the White House “maintains a presence” – for a period of up to eight years.
“The contractor shall provide the necessary services to capture, store, extract to approved formats, and transfer content published by EOP (Executive Office of the President) on publicly-accessible web sites, along with information posted by non-EOP persons on publicly-accessible web sites where the EOP offices under PRA (Presidential Records Act) maintains a presence,” the posting states.
Excerpt from White House New Media solicitation of bids
According to the 51-page solicitation of bids posted Aug. 21, the purpose of the mining and archiving project is to “comply with the Presidential Records Act,” though the listing does not specify how the information will be used. It states that the government is currently collecting data from social networks both programmatically and by use of daily screenshots.
White HouseTwitter page
The program is expected to be fully operational within 30 days after the contract is awarded to a vendor.
The White House pages at Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and Flickr contain thousands of comments from Americans – both supportive and critical of the administration and its policies.
WHite House Facebook page
Contractors must agree to keep information disclosed by the EOP in the “strictest confidence” and restrict access “to those employees who must have the information to perform the work provided herein on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.”
NLPC warns, “[V]irtually 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.”
‘Fishy’ info on health care
As WND reported, the Obama administration has made several efforts to collect information about citizens in the past. The White House announced a program Aug. 4, pleading with people around the nation to forward to a White House e-mail address anything they see “about health insurance reform that seems fishy.”
Scary chain e-mails and videos are starting to percolate on the Internet, breathlessly claiming, for example, to ‘uncover’ the truth about the president’s health insurance reform positions.
There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain e-mails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an e-mail or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to email@example.com.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, demanded that President Obama either halt the “snitch” program or define how he would protect the privacy of those who send or are the subject of e-mails to the firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail address.
“I am not aware of any precedent for a president asking American citizens to report their fellow citizens to the White house for pure political speech that is deemed ‘fishy’ or otherwise inimical tothe White House’s political interests,” the Texas senator wrote in a letter to Obama.
“By requesting that citizens send ‘fishy’ e-mails to the White House, it is inevitable that the names, e-mail addresses, IP addresses, and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported… You should not be surprised that these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection system.”
‘Compelling need’ for cookies
WND has also reported that the Obama administration has announced plans to lift a government ban on tracking visitors to government websites, and potentially, collect their personal data through the use of “cookies” – an effort some suspect may already be in place on White House sites.
A ban on such tracking by the federal government on Internet users has been in place since 2000, however, the White House Office of Management and Budget now wants to lift the ban citing a “compelling need.”
This screenshot shows computer cookies collected on WhiteHouse.gov and Recovery.gov
In fact, according to the Electronic Privacy and Information Center, federal agencies have negotiated agreements and contracts with social networking sites like Google, YouTube, SlideShare, Facebook, AddThis, Blist, Flickr and VIMEO to collect information on visitors for federal websites. All of these private companies are known to have agreements with federal agencies, but the public has never seen them.
In public comments submitted to the Office of Management and Budget, EPIC notes it has obtained documents that show federal agencies have negotiated these contracts with the private sector in violation of “existing statutory privacy rights.” Those agencies include: Department of Defense, Department of the Treasury, and the National Security Agency.
There are suspicions the White House is already involved.
According to Obama “technology czar” Vivek Kundra, the “compelling need” driving this major policy reversal is the administration’s desire to create “more open” government and to “enhance citizen participation in government.”