Facebook Pages in National Archives?

Say you’re a hopeful applicant for a job in the new Obama administration, and you’ve dutifully filled out the seven-page, 63-question disclosure questionnaire mandated by the transition office.

In it, you revealed the content of your Facebook page — after deleting those New Year's Eve photos from 2005! – that mole you had removed from your neck a couple of months ago and the details of your inheritance from Great Aunt Edna.

You hit the send button.

And then you think: Just who’s going to be reading this? And when similar information from all of the Obama applicants has been gathered, creating one of the largest treasure troves of personal secrets of powerful people in the world, exactly who will own that database?

Don’t ask the Obama team, it’s not saying.

A spokesman for the presidential transition declined to reveal the number of people who’ll have access to the disclosure information, where it will be kept and what will be done with it at the end of the transition. “I can’t comment at all on that,” said Obama spokesman Reid Cherlin.

Clearly, the database being built by the Obama team will be of enormous interest to people on the transition staff and beyond. It will be especially interesting to people the Obama team would least like to have access to it — hackers, political dirty tricksters and hostile foreign governments, among others.

“There may be 10,000 or 15,000 people who fill these things out, but I can think of 10 [million] or 15 million people who’d like to read them,” said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University who wrote the textbook on government service.

But applicants who are jittery about the security of their personal information shouldn’t be overly concerned, he said. “The forms are extremely intrusive. It’s part of the price they pay,” he explained. “But leaks are extremely rare.”

The legal chain of custody of the paperwork is clear. According to the National Archives, all documents created by the presidential transition are the personal property of the president-elect, not the federal government. In theory, transition staff could pack up all of the applications on Jan. 19 and send them to Chicago to be stored in Obama’s Hyde Park home.

But what’s most likely to happen is that the papers will be turned over to the Obama White House, where they’ll become official presidential records and be subject to the Presidential Records Act.

All such papers must eventually be turned over to the National Archives. Staff there will request the Obama team eventually turn over all papers only used by the transition, too, although it will be under no legal obligation to do so.

“Those records are personal, they’re not presidential,” says Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the National Archives and Research Administration. “We will encourage the president and the new White House to donate any personal materials to his future presidential library.”

Don’t worry, though: That doesn’t mean your Facebook page will be on display at the Obama museum in Chicago in 2027. “There are very clear guidelines that protect people’s privacy,” said Cooper. “Just because you end up in the National Archives doesn’t mean that it will become public information.”

Even now, the Archives and the Bush White House are working out the details of whether President George W. Bush will ship paperwork generated by the transition in 2000 to the National Archives. The White House said it had no comment on what the president might do.

For aspiring White House appointees, the disclosure requested by the Obama transition is just the first level of paperwork. After that, the most senior people will have to put together a financial disclosure form that will be made available to a curious public. And people do read the forms — wealthy Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin’s disclosure form, for example, was the single most downloaded financial form from government Web servers during the Clinton years.

And after that, potential appointees must undergo an FBI background check, which generates yet more paperwork, although those documents are kept private, since they can include rumors, critical comments and unsubstantiated facts.

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