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FCW Forum: Is Web 2.0 worth the risk?

What problems do you see arising when agencies allow employees to use blogs, wikis and other social-networking applications?

During the past several months, several government officials have raised concerns about the management and security risks associated with Web 2.0 applications. Here are some examples:

  • At an April 3 AFFIRM meeting, Ed Meagher, the outgoing deputy chief information officer at the Interior Department, questioned the value of allowing low-ranking government employees to submit and edit articles on a wiki.

  • On May 28, a NASA Johnson Space Flight Center contractor violated the Hatch Act by soliciting campaign donations through e-mail messages and blog postings while at work. A reader of a Federal Computer Week Web story on the violation complained that a mention of the word “blogging” in the headline may persuade some leaders to shy away from adopting blogs at their agencies.

  • At a June 3 forum on collaborative government hosted by Deloitte and the National Academy of Public Administration, a State Department employee expressed concern about potentially false reports of threats posted on social media sites.  She explained that intelligence agencies may end up wasting resources by following false tips from employees who might be insider threats.

What do you think? What risks do you see arising when agencies allow employees to use blogs, wikis and other social-networking applications? Post a comment on this blog (registration required) or send your comment to letters@fcw.com and we will post it for you.

Posted by Wade-Hahn Chan on Jun 10, 2008 at 12:12 PM

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Reader comments

Wed, Jun 18, 2008 Ty Cooper

To Hypocrisy Hound: Participating in a blog hosted on a commercial Web site is not hypocritical behavior. There is a marked difference between "participating" and "hosting".For those who believe that the Feds should follow the private sector in adopting new or emerging Web technologies simply because they are popular, I have two comments (1) The federal government has a responsibility to its citizens to act responsibly to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the data entrusted to it on behalf of the citizenry; and (2) A recent McAfee study found that the chance of downloading malicious code from a Web site has increased 41 percent in the past year. However, the safest place to conduct your Web surfing is among sites in the .gov top-level generic domain, which is administered by the federal government and used by official government sites.Perhaps this relative safety (compared to .com, .org, .edu and other domains) is the result of a greater attention to security concerns in the federal sector. Just because a new technology is cool or popular among citizens doesn’t mean that is should be automatically adopted in the federal sector. The adoption of any technology in the federal sector should be based on an assessment of its impact on an agency’s mission, as well as an assessment of the security risk to information and information systems. Yes, citizens want options and convenience when interacting with their government, but they also expect that personal and confidential information that they provide to us (much of which is required under penalty of law) to be protected against unauthorized use. From an IT security perspective, the challenge is find the right balance between convenience and security. There are many places on the Internet to play, socialize, and be entertained. Some places are more appropriate than others.

Fri, Jun 13, 2008 Chris Oakleaf

Is the government afraid to talk to its citizens?Is the government afraid that having its workers talk to each other will cause some sort of revolution.What is the fear?My organization is forming a committee to bring Web 2.0 to our local organization, and then to see what develops.

Fri, Jun 13, 2008 Bailey Spencer

The view that Web 2.0 technologies are all risk or time wasters on the taxpayer’s dime overlooks the potential benefits to government agencies. It’s a mistake to ignore the new social computing technologies, especially as a new generation of workers enters the workforce accustomed to using many of these tools in their personal lives. More businesses and government organizations are adopting social computing applications and finding safer ways to deploy them, in some cases entirely behind the firewall to, for example, help project teams share information and be more productive. Web 2.0 technologies provide an important new way of communicating and sharing information both internally and externally. Like it or not, they’re ushering in a cultural shift in the way people work, collaborate and share knowledge. Each agency needs to find the right fit but standing on the sidelines isn’t an option. A better approach is to understand how the technologies can be applied to help the agency and its people work better and be more productive.

Fri, Jun 13, 2008 Melissa Lasure

Amazing. Most of these comments pertain only to usage of the technology. The danger lies in what gets posted. Hypocrisy Hound mentions this is web 2.0 technology. Big deal.The topic isn't something that is critical to security of our nation. Unless, of course the folks reading are pondering on the fact that we argue about this technology.In fact, they sit and wait to get something worthwhile that can be used against us.From low-ranking to the government that doesn't deal with nation security, why don't you quit lumping everyone that works government into one group? We shouldn't be, any more than separate parts of commercial industry lumps themselves together.Geesh......

Thu, Jun 12, 2008 Bev Godwin

Proud of GovernmentThank goodness web 2.0 is already here in government despite all these fears of security and loss of control. These technologies are about users wanting to have say into the content-- either internally or the public -- and to allow two-way communcition. These technologies are so popular because the users of them want to write content, edit content, comment on content, categorize (tag) content, share content... Government communicators such as web managers and public affairs/marketing staff get this much better than the government IT community.There are already over 30 active public-facing federal agency blogs (2 if which are from CIOs). Check them out at http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Reference_Shelf/News/blog.shtmlThere are also numerous examples of government use of RSS, wikis, podcasts, vodcasts, social networking, social news and bookmarking, micro-blogging, virtual worlds, egames, mash-ups, widgets, and more. Yes, even in the federal government!I am proud of the government pioneers leading the way and showing these tools can be effectively used to provide better information and service to the public and to meet the agency's mission. Carry on!

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