A profound post by Matt Compton at Democratic Strategist questions whether the Presidential Records Act that Congress passed in 1978 is applicable in today’s internet-based office environment.

Email had been invented seven years earlier in a project funded by the Department of Defense, but it’s hard to imagine that the authors of the Presidential Records Act could have foreseen a government which put instant, electronic communication into widespread use. To ask anyone at the time to imagine the sprawling, interconnected world of the Internet as it is today would have been laughable.

And yet this 1978 law still dictates how the executive branch does business.

During the election, the Obama campaign was deeply immersed in the world of the Internet, and we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the brilliance of the external online strategy. But much less has been made of how well Obama for America as an organization used the Web internally.

Staffers used online tools to share documents, built wikis to train volunteers, used Facebook to build get to know each other. And throughout it all, the staff — from David Axlerod on down — maintained a continuous conversation through instant messenger.

It now looks, however, like that practice will be put to an end.

Citing both the requirements of the Presidential Records Act and security concerns, lawyers for the incoming administration have told staffers that they will not be able to use instant messenger in the White House. They will forgo the use of an official Facebook account as a tool to communicate with supporters. They won’t be allowed to bring in USB drives to take work home. Access to many websites will be restricted. And in many cases, the computers at their desks will be dated and running old Windows software.

While cybersafety and national security are heavy issues in this debate, isn’t a lack of creativity and transparency a threat as well? As we move into the 21st Century in an unenviable position, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to do things the best that we can? I don’t think “the best” involves blocking websites and limiting the White House’s access to outside sources and opinions. Certainly, we can’t have a White House haphazardly wading into cyberspace, but, as Compton notes, the NSA and other agencies worked on his Blackberry to make it secure. We should be doing the same with the online presence in the White House.

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