White House Updates Privacy Policy So Everyone Understands Their Comments Are Public

Want to complain about the government on the White House website, Twitter account, or Facebook page? A privacy policy update released by the Obama administration makes it clear your comments are public information, while trying to ease American’s concerns over government surveillance programs. However, some privacy advocates say the revisions aren’t nearly enough.

The new privacy policy makes clear how the government will track and use data from online visitors to the WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites, Boston.com reports.

“Our old privacy policy was just that – old,” officials with the White House blogged on Friday.

While the update doesn’t make any actual practical changes, it strips the legal jargon to make the policy easier to read, so that users understand just what information the White House will store. Data being collected includes the date, time and duration of online visits, the originating Internet Protocol address and how much data users transmit from WhiteHouse.gov to their computers.

Since coming into office, the Obama administration has added new interactive features to the White House website, including a petition platform, live online chats and pages on popular social media network. The administration promised not to sell the data of online visitors, but makes no guarantees to visitors on third-party White House pages on social media networks. Additionally, the administration does not give third parties, including the U.S. National Security Agency, access to visitor emails.

“Within the White House, we restrict access to personally identifiable information to employees, contractors, and vendors subject to non-disclosure requirements who require access to this information in order to perform their official duties and exercise controls to limit what data they can view based on the specific needs of their position,” the policy says.

As for use of comments deemed to be in the public domain, the policy allows the White House to use those messages for public advocacy purposes. The administration may also take it upon themselves to direct queries to the proper department.

Privacy advocates have expressed mixed reaction to the policy changes. While some say the policy doesn’t offer enough information, others say the changes are a nice reflection of consumer concerns.

Jeramie Scott, national security counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the biggest problem involves third-party sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

“Interacting with the White House and its different sites is inherently political, and that type of thing shouldn’t be used for commercial gain,” he tells Boston.com.

“This seems to be one of the better policies, a model perhaps for others,” John Simpson, director for Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project.

White House updating online privacy policy [Boston.com]