Gov 2.0 applications carry legal risks

GSA attorney says federal agencies can overcome hazards posed by social media

Government social media applications come with numerous hazards in complying with laws, regulations and terms of service agreements, a senior General Services Administration (GSA) attorney said today.

GSA assistant general counsel Elizabeth Hochberg said she reviews gov 2.0 applications for compliance with more than a dozen laws, including a statute that dates back to 1840. Most of them are hurdles that can be overcome, she added.

“I have to somehow make it work, but it takes a bit of doing,” Hochberg said at the Gov 2.0 Summit conference, sponsored by O’Reilly Media and UMB Tech.


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For example, Hochberg has cautioned federal acquisition officers active on social media sites to be sure not to release information about source selection or other sensitive procurement data.

She also has advised federal Web site designers who had to deal with complying with Section 508 provisions on access for the disabled, while also trying to incorporate advanced design features.

Hochberg, who also works on intellectual property rights, said agencies should protect their brand on social media. For example, they should exhibit their official seal, and make it clear they are the official location for the agency on that site. she said.

Those actions will help protect the public's experience of engaging with the agency on a social media site while avoiding confusion, she added. For example, people may become confused if two Facebook pages display a logo or name for the same federal agency because people may not recognize which site is the official site, she said.

Although government attorneys protect brands, agencies should play a role as well, Hochberg said.

Hochberg recommended that agencies go to GSA’s Apps.gov site to get approved terms of service agreements with service providers.

 

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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