Fulfilling Government 2.0's Promise with Robust Privacy Protections
The public can now “friend” the White House and scores of agencies on social networks, virtual worlds, and video-sharing sites. The Obama Administration sees this trend as crucial to enhancing governmental transparency, public participation, and collaboration. As the President has underscored, government needs to tap into the public’s expertise because it doesn’t have all of the answers. To be sure, Government 2.0 might improve civic engagement. But it also might produce privacy vulnerabilities because agencies often gain access to individuals’ social network profiles, photographs, videos, and contact lists when interacting with individuals online. Little would prevent agencies from using and sharing individuals’ social media data for more than policymaking, including law enforcement, immigration, tax, and benefits matters. Although people may be prepared to share their views on health care and the environment with agencies and executive departments, they may be dismayed to learn that such policy collaborations carry a risk of government surveillance.
This Essay argues that government should refrain from accessing individuals’ social media data on Government 2.0 sites. Agencies should treat these sites as one-way mirrors, where individuals can see government’s activities and engage in policy discussions but where government cannot use, collect, or distribute individuals’ social media information. A “one-way mirror” policy would facilitate democratic discourse, enhance government accountability, and protect privacy.
78 George Washington Law Review A-101(2010).