White House archive rules could save its Twitter followers' messages

Followers of the White House's Twitter accounts could someday discover they are in fact part of the federal government's official archives.

The longstanding Presidential Records Act of 1978 -- which requires White House staffers to preserve all communications -- could apply to public replies and private messages that voters send Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and other members of the Obama administration's communications team, Gibbs said Tuesday.

"We have dating back -- I don't know when it dates back to -- but presidential records require that if I go on a site like this, and send out a message, that message has to be archived for the future, just like any e-mails I send or get are also archived for the future," said Gibbs, who just recently joined Twitter.

He added the law is "intended to preserve the paper and records of the administration."

Initially, the White House's communications shop was unable to join such platforms as Twitter, mostly because federal guidelines lagged years behind advances in online social networking.

Until recently, most White House computers did not even allow access to those Web sites, Gibbs said Tuesday.

But the press secretary noted the "computer guys" had recently finished "whatever the computer guys do," and now he and his colleagues are able to communicate freely on Twitter -- all the while having their tweets and messages recorded and archived, as required by law.

Still, the arrangement has called into question whether other Twitter users' "at-replies" and direct messages to Gibbs and other White House staffers might also qualify as records slated for preservation.

According to the White House website's own description of the rules:

"Pursuant to this statute, emails or messages sent to a White House email account, information submitted via WhiteHouse.gov, and comments posted or messages received via an official White House page on a third-party web-site (such as an official White House profile on a social network) will be treated as presidential records and may be permanently archived"

That would seem to include Twitter -- and with it, messages to Gibbs, and tweets he posts in reply. But Gibbs was unable to answer directly whether that was the case on Tuesday, primarily because he said he is still unfamiliar with the service.

An e-mail to the White House for further clarification was not immediately returned on Tuesday.

However, the press secretary did say the likelihood those replies might be saved has hardly deterred some users from posting incredibly critical comments.

"Judging from some of the criticism I've read, it's not," the press secretary said of the rule.