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It's on the Record and in Need of a Home

When it comes to state and local governments using social media to update constituents, it's important to remember that the content not only becomes public record, but also often becomes part of the official record.

As more agencies delve into social networking and media tools, extend their online presence, and use new collaboration and data-sharing technologies, the question arises about what must be retained as an "official government record" and, moreover, how to store that data.

How do public-sector agencies save, back up and archive these files -- and make search and recovery (and security) possible? These are a few of the issues government agencies, unlike some enterprise users, must address.

Storage area networks, network-attached storage, storage virtualization, virtual tape libraries, data deduplication and backup management tools have become fixtures of the data center. The vast stores of records in live use daily across agencies, combined with the need to ensure continuity of operations, demand it.

Records Dilemmas

The ramping up of data is creating a new challenge. State Freedom of Information Act legislation and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure call for archiving e-mail as part of the public record. But as Twitter and Facebook postings become common practices of state and local agencies, insiders expect to eventually see legislation on social media governance.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Oklahoma Office of State Finance are two agencies addressing what social networking means for archiving and records retention. Douglas Doe, web manager with the office of state finance, recently told The Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City, "We're trying to decide if we need to draft new record types or use existing record types that things in the Web 2.0 arena would map to."

The Search for a Solution

Five actions are key to better record-keeping of these new data sources: capture, sort, secure, archive and access. Technology is surely the approach.

On the federal front, Paul Brachfeld, the National Archives and Records Administration inspector general, detailed in a report the top management challenges facing NARA, the agency where official federal records ultimately reside.

Some comments in Brachfeld's report would ring true for almost any state or local government agency: "Given society's growing expectation for easy and near-immediate access to information online," the report says, it will be a challenge to provide access to records created digitally and made available electronically. Ensuring data security will be equally difficult, Brachfeld told lawmakers this past fall.

IT and records managers will find that the boom in data brought on by public-sector use of social media -- and the need to permanently store such data -- will spur them to work even more closely together. It's not unlike physical and IT security officials, who increasingly find their two worlds collapsing into one.

Archiving has quickly moved past paper to encompass many types of media, including video of city council meetings. As Web 2.0 transforms government, record-keeping will need to keep pace.

Apr 22 2010

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