More Silly Restrictions Will Limit Team Obama's Ability To Communicate

from the don't-let-the-lawyers-govern dept

While there are some indications that newly inaugurated President Obama is going to be able to keep his Blackberry (or some other device) to communicate with the outside world, similar "restrictions" are being used to curtail his staff's ability to communicate. Specifically, staffers have been told they have to give up instant messaging. The reasoning, once again, comes down to the lawyers, and that records need to be kept of all written communications in the White House, according to the Presidential Records Act. However, it's seriously (and reasonably) pissing off Obama staffers who have come to rely on IM as a very efficient way to communicate and get stuff done.

It's really sad when efficiency is getting stifled by lawyers, though it happens all too often. Why not just make it clear to staffers to consider the fact that everything they instant message may be seen on CNN the next day, and tell them it's their responsibility to use the tools effectively? This is the federal gov't we're talking about. Why are they being treated like grade school kids? The purpose of the Presidential Records Act is to increase transparency in government. But, like so many unintended consequences of regulations, it's doing the opposite. It's driving people to use less efficient and less useful tools of communication to decrease transparency.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    :Lobo Santo, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 8:30am

    Lawyers

    I read somewhere:
    "If all the Doctors died tomorrow, it would be a disaster.
    If all the lawyers died tomorrow... meh, whatever."

    I'm not advocating all lawyers need to die, just saying, it's not like the world would be hurting if they were gone.

     

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    Ron (profile), Jan 20th, 2009 @ 8:38am

    Written Communications

    Well, they could just consider that, like a telephone call, IM's are not written communications since they leave no trail. Then all that's needed is an understanding that there is no agreement without a written record. So, anything said in an IM is not binding. On the other hand, this might be a way to ensure that people actually talk to people. Could build a more solid personal relationship.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 8:49am

      Re: Written Communications

      I'll bet you a $ that there is a trail of IM. Anything that can be logged today is logged. I am sure the IM company (Verizon, AT&T, etc) has access to the IMs crossing it's network.

       

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        identicon
        Dave, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 9:45am

        Re: Re: Written Communications

        So have them set up their own IM server that logs all traffic. I'm sure there's lots of jabber servers out there in companies doing just that.

         

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      Mischa, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 9:44am

      Re: Written Communications

      What do you mean 'they leave no trail'? While they can be set to not save messages, the IM clients I use automatically log all messages by default. I wouldn't use an IM client that didn't have the ability to save all messages.

       

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      There's no excuse, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 10:24am

      Re: Written Communications

      There are corporate solutions for this, that will log all communications. Check out Microsoft's Unified Messaging solutions.

       

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        longbow (profile), Jan 20th, 2009 @ 11:48am

        Re: Re: Written Communications

        I like the MS Office Communcations Server, it logs everything if you tell it to, on the server side and on the client side. also has lots of other options for file transfers, video conf, phone conf and more

         

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      identicon
      boost, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 11:28am

      Re: Written Communications

      It really depends on what program you use for instant messaging. At my work we use an instant messaging program that does record our conversations. So, it just means that they need to use a specific messaging program.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 8:39am

    Speaking of dieing, who died and left the lawyers in charge? Frankly, I am surprised that any of the people want to use such tools considering they will be recorded. With all the government cover ups these days, I figured they would relinquish them willingly. I give them credit for fighting to keep using them. I will not be surprised however, if later they modify the PRA to leave out mobile devices. You know, for national security sake.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 11:00am

      Re:

      If they could have modified it to leave out mobile devices, it would have been done during the last administration...

       

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    Richard Ahlquist (profile), Jan 20th, 2009 @ 8:43am

    ffs this is getting rediculous

    Its simple, setup an IM server like Jabber for INSIDE staffer use only, make the logins secure and log everything. FFS people it aint rocket science.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 9:30am

      Re: ffs this is getting rediculous

      They're not smarter than a 5th grader, my man. The restricted "Whitehouse Staff Only-You are being logged" IM network really is a no brainer. Of course it will be usable only once you were authenticated 50 times hahaha.

       

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    Gunnar, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 8:45am

    Is there some reason they can't just keep logs of the IM conversations?

    I haven't used a stand alone messenger like AIM or MSN in a long time, but every multiple account manager (such as Pidgin) has some kind of log manager.

     

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      Mike (profile), Jan 20th, 2009 @ 10:48am

      Re:

      Is there some reason they can't just keep logs of the IM conversations?

      No, the issue is NOT the technical issue. It's easy to keep logs.

      The issue is the lawyer issue: what's in those logs will become public, and they don't want that.

       

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    Nick, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 8:45am

    Not that hard

    CC all texts to a computer built to archive all incoming messages by date and originator. I could build a comp to do that for like less then $250.

     

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    GeneralEmergency (profile), Jan 20th, 2009 @ 9:00am

    Huh?

    So... Mike, you think that Obama staffers will actually have desktop bandwidth -left over- for IM-ing after all the FaceBooking, WoWing and YouTubing they'll be doing on the job?


    Puhhh-leeeeze.

     

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      NRB, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 9:17am

      Re: Huh?

      Facebook and Youtube are filtered in the White House, and I'm guessing WoW is too. Most sites that would provide a modicum of entertainment value are filtered. Trust me...I know.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 9:54am

      Re: Huh?

      You have a real distorted view of the actual problems.

       

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    identicon
    alex, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 9:01am

    so what happens to the communication that isnt electronic, and doesnt take place where anyone can record it? what if i was a staffer and discussed policy in the comfort of my own home, without any records, written or otherwise existing?

    it'd be the same damn thing as talking over IM, except with IM i can turn on logging to save all my conversations

     

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    Greg, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 9:02am

    Crypto

    IM servers and clients can both log conversations. Jabber would be efficient if setup internally since it can log all traffic and provide SSL encryption to avoid snooping.

    Also, if you're worried about ISP's or anyone else seeing your IM conversations you should setup some PTP encryption such as OTR with Pidgin.

     

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    the angry intern, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 9:33am

    Microsoft Communicator anyone?

    I'm sure they use Microsoft equipped machines, so why not just install and used Microsoft Communicator? It's for internal only IM'ing and it can be captured and saved to a server. At my previous job we used Communicator exclusively for internal communicating between agents. Actually worked quite well and was secure enough for the network the Navy and Marine Corps use.

     

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    Dirk Belligerent, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 9:37am

    Why so secretive?

    All this boo-hooing over the Obama regime being unable to have their own private channels with which to run their criminal enterprises is to laugh. If Team Dubya wanted to circumvent the rules, would Techdirt be decrying the lack of efficiency or howling, "What do they have to hide?!? Bushitler!!!" I guess a different standard applies to Hopey Changerson and his Merry Men from Chicago.

    Sample chat log:

    RAHMBO: yo. u there?

    BIG O: Yes. What's up?

    RAHMBO: blago wants a pardon

    BIG O: lulz

    RAHMBO: i know. told him it'll be jan 19, 2013 at earliest

    BIG O: If he's lucky, that is. Why would I need to hush him up when I'm done. I'm untouchable.

    RAHMBO: tru dat. u = da man


    Yeah, we wouldn't want to know that those sorts of shenanigans are going on, now would we? :-

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 10:46am

      Re: Why so secretive?

      If I recall correctly, reading "My Pet Goat" was prioritized above addressing the nation on issues of 9-11, A Birthday Party was prioritized over Katrina, and Bush also *first* learned of the economic collapse when Paulsen came to him to ask for $700B.

      Perhaps this was because all conversation was filtered through the advisor's eyes. There's a book that details some of these issues by Scott McClellan that is far more entertaining than your sample chat log.

      You have a president that appears to have an incredible desire to lead based on the best information, which would be more than just the rosy-colored stuff. To simply, and jokingly say it's going to be used for personal things is seriously misguided, and I doubt you see the value in said communications technology yourself.

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 10:58am

        Re: Re: Why so secretive?

        Dubya is no longer President. Move on.

        What the Obama disciples are refusing to understand is that they are supporting allowing secret communications of our government in order to run their criminal enterprises, but they're for it because it's THEIR GUYS keeping the secrets.

        Case in point, the so-called "politicization of the Justice Dept." - Clinton fired EVERY SINGLE LAST ATTORNEY, including those poking into his criminal activities and the Left sat in silence or pointed out attys serve at the Prez's pleasure. Dubya sacked EIGHT lawyers and you'd think he'd declared himself Emperor.

        What's to prevent Obama and his minions from plotting the unemployment of Patrick Fitzgerald because this modern-day Elliot Ness is turning over too many rocks in Chicago; rocks which hide cronies and co-conspirators to Obama & Co.? Why are Obama's acolytes so eager to give him communications options they'd swoon to their fainting couches if Dubya requested?

        The only efficiencies being impacted are the Obama cabal's ability to run their Kremlin-style operations. Boo-friggedy-hoo. Turn in the Blackberry, Barry.

         

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 11:16am

          Re: Re: Re: Why so secretive?

          One problem is that Gov't is so large that mass and 1-1 communications a necessity. Email and IM are needed to facilitate quick dissemination of facts and data which will lead to timely policy making.

          So what's your alternative?

          The way I see it, become forced to exclusively meet with people to gain any type of insight. These meetings are usually undocumented, but it benefits the lobby. But in the process, your administration becomes For, By, and Of the Lobbists.

          I have to admit, I enjoyed the clever slip-in of "Kremlin-style" operations and Emperorism.

          Stay classy.

           

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        •  
          identicon
          nasch, Jan 21st, 2009 @ 9:13am

          Re: Re: Re: Why so secretive?

          1. Clinton is no longer president. Move on.

          2. Clinton fired all the US attorneys when he took office and appointed new ones, as is customary. They then served out their terms. Bush fired certain US attorneys in the middle of their terms, for apparently political reasons.

          3. Who exactly is "supporting allowing secret communications of our government in order to run their criminal enterprises"?

          "Why are Obama's acolytes so eager to give him communications options they'd swoon to their fainting couches if Dubya requested?"

          What are you talking about? You think people would be upset because Bush would have been able to have secret communications? And what was he actually doing, spray painting messages on the outside of the White House? Anything he wanted kept secret was kept secret, IM would only have made it more likely to get leaks, not less.

           

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      Mike (profile), Jan 20th, 2009 @ 10:50am

      Re: Why so secretive?

      All this boo-hooing over the Obama regime being unable to have their own private channels with which to run their criminal enterprises is to laugh.

      Um. Try a little reading comprehension next time. My issue isn't with them keeping things a secret. It's the opposite.

      The REASON they can't use IM is BECAUSE the lawyers are worried that the info would need to be made public. I'd have no problem with them logging the data and making it public. I'm not saying they should have secret channels, but by not letting them use IM it ENCOURAGES secret channels.

      Try reading next time.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Elizabeth Potts Weinstein, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 9:40am

    I agree, who put the lawyers in charge.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I am a lawyer and business owner. I can tell you what business owners everywhere know, that you cannot let inside or outside counsel make policy (they just tell you the risk of your decisions, they don't make the decisions).

    I mean, is Obama the most powerful man in the world or not?!? I'm sure there is a tech way to save IMs (I mean, mine are archived on my computer pretty easily) -- I know that there needs to be extra security etc. but I'm sure that's possible. Who are these people?

    ~ Elizabeth

     

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    identicon
    Anon2, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 10:02am

    excuses

    Just because they say the rule is dictated by the Presidential Records Act does not make it so -- it's a convenient excuse. Of course the people discussing these things and setting these policies understand (or have staff who understand) that it is simple to have a system that captures and logs IM communications, and thus complies with the PRA. They don't want people using IM because it is so informal that it's likely to lead to records of unfortunately worded conversations. This is still a huge problem with email, and we've had that for how long now? Indeed, it's still a huge problem from time to time with people who regularly communicate by telephone on recorded lines. It's human nature that familiarity breeds informality, and that doesn't always come across well in a written record.

     

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    identicon
    A Nonny Moose, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 10:07am

    It's the law

    It's not a matter of telling staffers to retain copies, or just a matter of secured communications. There are laws dating back to the 1930's requiring Federal Agencies to keep archives of all 'public records'.
    http://www.archives.gov/
    Those lawyers everyone's bitching about? They're not all lawyers, and we call them 'Senators' and 'Representatives'. Even given that, Securities firms and Brokerages have pretty strict retention requirements, and they manage to use IM and email...

     

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    Future1investor, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 10:19am

    Don't Forget Phone Surveilance

    Lets not forget the NSA can and will tap phones and probably are ever since the Bush Administration secret order in 2007.

     

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      identicon
      manny, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 11:27am

      Re: Don't Forget Phone Surveilance

      please note that warrentless wire taps are probably not going to be recinded by the upcomming administraton please nott Carnivore was delevoped in the Clinton admin

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Joe Smith, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 10:55am

    Watergate and audit trails

    Let's all remember Watergate shall we. There are good reasons why you want the Administration to keep a clear record of what they have done.

    The real problem with instant messaging is that it is not secure and the audit trail is horrible to non-existent. (One can only imagine the hoops that RIM had to jump through and the concessions and promises they made to Obama's team so that Obama could keep his BlackBerry - I bet Obama's emails do not get routed through Canada - there is probably a big RIM server sitting in Langley right now.)

    Email generally has a problem with organizing and archiving emails. There does not appear to be any email program available which adequately logs incoming and outgoing email in a way which can be sensibly retrieved in the event of litigation.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 12:01pm

    SO LOG THE DAMN IM CHATS

    Seriously. What the hell. The Whitehouse must have a craptastic sysadmin if he can't figure this one out. Companies have been allowing the use of IM and LOGGING the conversations for years now. There are numerous ways they can do it, so many I cant list them all here in the 5 minutes I have to make a random but true comment.

     

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      Mike (profile), Jan 20th, 2009 @ 1:07pm

      Re: SO LOG THE DAMN IM CHATS

      Seriously. What the hell. The Whitehouse must have a craptastic sysadmin if he can't figure this one out. Companies have been allowing the use of IM and LOGGING the conversations for years now. There are numerous ways they can do it, so many I cant list them all here in the 5 minutes I have to make a random but true comment.

      I think you're missing the point. They know they can log the chats. The reason they don't want to do this is because they DON'T WANT the chats logged. They're afraid people will say something they'll later regret.

      It's not a tech problem. It's a bunch of worried lawyers afraid of what people will say.

       

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        identicon
        JT, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 4:46pm

        Re: Re: SO LOG THE DAMN IM CHATS

        It's their job to protect Obama, so I don't know what the big deal is? Not sure why though, Obama could murder someone in cold blood on national TV and people would accept it.

         

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    identicon
    GHynson, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 12:26pm

    IM Logging?

     

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    identicon
    GHynson, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 12:27pm

    IM Logging?

    Um,..I have 10 years worth of ICQ logs since it was Beta,.
    What's the Problem?
    Goverment Incompetant BS?

     

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    anymouse, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 1:54pm

    It's not just the whitehouse

    I work for a state funded university where the IT department recently (ok, so it was 2 years ago or so) removed the ability to save or print IM conversations from within the IM tool itself (they distribute Novell for internal use).

    Can anyone come up with a logical business reason to make a communication tool more difficult to use or less useful (for internal communications)? Now shift to politics (higher education systems are highly political entities to work within) and there can be lots of reasons for not wanting IM's to be 'officially' recorded or logged.

    By making all records only available in 3rd party systems (users can and still do copy/paste into Word or other text editors to print/save various conversations) they have basically removed any validity from anything that could have been said via IM (they can now deny things were said via IM, since there is no official record).

    On a smaller scale our IT department made the same decision as the Whitehouse, they don't want to allow IM's to be 'official' records, but they can't just stop people from using them, so they neuter the tools and make it more difficult for users to communicate and perform their basic daily tasks. If someone IM's info to another individual and they want a printed copy, it takes them another minute or two to get it, so while they haven't stopped the behavior, they have made it much easier to deny the validity of any 'copies' of IM conversations (which are arguably one of the easiest types of communications to 'mock up' and print out).

     

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    identicon
    Rose M. Welch, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 3:57pm

    Most internet messenging services offer archiving... And why not have a net nanny recording the convos??? If it's really THAT important...

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 4:32pm

    How would you like it if every single off-the record chat or email was used against you?

    Point is, most intelligence comes from 2 words out of every 1000, and the media feeds on those two words. Seriously. They want to push forward that which has an emotional value. Just look at the whole Dr.Biden/Oprah interview.

    Seems there's a lot of Microsoft people here. Perhaps you should perform due diligence and ping your Microsoft HR rep to determine the number employees and even 2nd hand help who have been let go which have IM messages, email, or the like as their disposition before offering up your asinine recommendations.

    To those external, you may be surprised why even Microsoft can't keep their highest performing employees. They are afraid, internally, of rocking the boat, and any idea which would challenge them to be a better performing company. I've learned a LOT from the MiniMicrosoft blog, and maybe you should take your own medicine for once. Microsoft will only grow if it brings new technology or ideas in as part of the process.

    I wonder what Microsoft's employee and contractor retention rate is. It's never been published, has it?

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 4:34pm

    How would you like it if every single off-the record chat or email was used against you?

    Point is, most intelligence comes from 2 words out of every 1000, and the media feeds on those two words. Seriously. They want to push forward that which has an emotional value. Just look at the whole Dr.Biden/Oprah interview.

    Seems there's a lot of Microsoft people here. Perhaps you should perform due diligence and ping your Microsoft HR rep to determine the number employees and even 2nd hand help that been let go due to IM messages, email, or the like.

    Consider this before offering up your asinine recommendations.

    To those external, you may be surprised why even Microsoft can't keep their highest performing employees. They are afraid, internally, of rocking the boat, and any idea which would challenge them to be a better performing company. I've learned a LOT from the MiniMicrosoft blog, and maybe you should take your own medicine for once. Microsoft will only grow if it brings new technology or ideas in as part of the process, and this includes discourse.

    I wonder what Microsoft's employee and contractor retention rate is. It's never been published, has it?

     

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    identicon
    JT, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 4:44pm

    Many Are Missing the Point...

    I think too many are looking at things innocently.

    Information can be recorded and IM can be a rather "loose" form of conversation. There's probably more concern of information being retained on the client side, not the server side. That information could, either, get into the wrong hands or be turned to look horribly bad in the hands of someone disgruntled.

    Part of the problem is that too many people are still way too stupid with technology. I'll even throw in that I think that if Obama gets his way we'll have our first mammoth government leak by way of technology.

     

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    alternatives(), Jan 21st, 2009 @ 10:59am

    jabber server

    Just put that up and log.

     

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    identicon
    FrellMeDead, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 2:00am

    IM recordings

    Most IM conversations can be made secure to at least some degree using encryption. Almost all IM software have the capability built in. Also some people believe that IM does leave a trail, that is completely false.
    I think that a combination of having the IM conversations recorded as well as encrypted (sent/received as well as on the hard drive/server) should be done. This would allow the technology to be used. Of course most lawyers have no idea about the things the write and as a result we get these stupid restrictions put on laws that are valid and needed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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