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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Now, You Can Follow Government Intelligence Agencies Back

If surveillance from government intelligence agencies has you concerned, now you can at least follow them back â€" if only on Tumblr.

Yesterday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence started a Tumblr blog about the work of the nation’s intelligence community, called IC On The Record.

Created in response to President Obama’s move to both defend the country’s intelligence-gathering practices and to create a “hub for further transparency,” the site includes official statements, declassified documents, testimony, interviews and fact sheets. The office represents 17 different intelligence agencies, including the N.S.A., the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and military intelligence units.

So far, the site’s most prominent release has been an 85-page ruling by the former chief judge of the FISA court, Judge John D. Bates, who “sharply rebuked the National Security Agency in 2001 for repeatedly misleading the court that oversees its surveillance on domestic soil,” as reported in The New York Times.

But its appearance on a blogging platform that is more commonly used by 20-somethings to share GIFs and other snippets of pop culture (or for pornography)  surprised many.

The contents of the releases themselves, including official statements, video and testimony, were no different from what the office released on its own Web site, which raises the question: why make a Tumblr?

For some time now, government entities have been turning to Tumblr, as well as other social media platforms, to freshen their image and revamp their tools for reaching the public.

Tumblr powers over 30 United States government blogs, including the official blog of the United States government, as well as sites for the White House, the Department of Defense and the Internal Revenue Service.

For Liba Rubenstein, Tumblr’s director of causes and politics, the blogging service offers qualities that frankly, she said, government agencies could use.

“Do I think the posts that IC On The Record is making are going to be the most viral posts that Tumblr has ever seen? Probably not,” she said, “But using the Web-facing side of Tumblr, I think that’s really smart.”

The site’s modern gloss of openness, sharability, buzz and cool, gives staid agencies a fresh new image, something that is harder to achieve on formal Web sites drenched in bureaucracy. And Tumblr hasn’t only given a new image to government agencies, but its youthful audience was one of the reasons cited by many for Tumblr’s $1.1 billion acquisition by Yahoo this May.

In the case of the intelligence agencies, however, some have complained that the move to Tumblr is more sizzle than substance, and that the documents released so far are not, in fact so open and accessible but heavily redacted and missing search, copy or paste functions.

(A searchable version of the court ruling was later provided by news organizations.)

For its part, Tumblr is happy to lend its hip reputation to whatever companies and institutions find the platform useful.

But of course, the essence of ‘cool’ can be fleeting.

As one young woman in Washington, D.C., wrote on Twitter: