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Committee adopts new third-party Web site regulations

Members of the House will be permitted to use third-party Web sites like YouTube to communicate with constituents as long as the content is for official purposes, and not personal, commercial or campaign communication, according to rules adopted Thursday by the House Administration Committee.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The rules are seen by House Administration Chairman Robert Brady as a compromise between several proposals under consideration in recent months and are closely aligned with those circulated by the Senate Rules Committee last week.

One plan by Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., who chairs the commission charged with drafting the language for the Administration Committee, was slammed by Minority Leader Boehner in July as "an attack on free speech."

House Administration ranking member Vernon Ehlers and Reps. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Tom Price, R-Ga., drafted alternate language, which formed the basis for the changes that won committee approval. Ehlers said Brady "demonstrated outstanding leadership."

"These new guidelines are a step in the right direction for a Congress that has been behind the technological curve for too long," Boehner said. "By encouraging the use of emerging and established new media tools, Congress is sending the message that we want to speak to citizens, and receive feedback, in the most open and accessible manner possible."

House Speaker Pelosi lauded the panel's effort to "modernize the antiquated franking regulations to address the realities of communications in the Internet age."

Capuano refused to comment on the committee action.

"When a link to a Web site outside the member's official site is embedded on the member's official site, the member's site must include an exit notice advising the visitor when they are leaving the House," the rules state. "This exit notice must also include a disclaimer that neither the member nor the House is responsible for the content of the linked site(s)."

The Senate regulations go further by creating a "nonexhaustive list" of approved sites that must agree to disclose when content is maintained by a Senate office.

For the Senate, third-party sites would also be banned from adding commercial or political material or links to an office-maintained page, and would be banned from using data-gathering tools on a Senate-maintained page that collect and distribute personal information on users.

The new rules "reflect a greater recognition of the need to provide flexible solutions to the opportunities and challenges presented by new and emerging technologies," and they end a longstanding restriction that has become difficult to abide by, Brady said.

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