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Tom Murse

Does the Government Monitor Your Twitter Account?

By February 4, 2013

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Say you craft and send out the wittiest tweet ever. It's a gem, really. Perhaps the most clever thing anyone's ever posted.

But if nobody retweets, or even reads, your tweet does it really matter what you have to say on Twitter?

Actually, yes. It turns out the research arm of Congress has been archiving billions of tweets over the past several years in cooperation with the social media platform. The research arm of Congress, of course, is the one and only Library of Congress.

That means there's a permanent record of every passing thought you've broadcast to the world about what you ate for breakfast, how your crazy uncle caused another scene at the family picnic or what Beyonce did at the Super Bowl halftime show.

Why, oh why, would the Library want to store your tweets?

For the benefit of future generations, it says.

"Archiving and preserving outlets such as Twitter will enable future researchers access to a fuller picture of today's cultural norms, dialogue, trends and events to inform scholarship, the legislative process, new works of authorship, education and other purposes," the Library of Congress said.

The Library of Congress is the research arm of Congress and serves as the national library of the United States. It catalogs millions of books, manuscripts, films and photographs. It has now stored more than 170 billion tweets in chronological order.

Getting to those tweets is another story. There are certain technical limitations to sifting through all that data. The Library of Congress so far hasn't been able to grant access to the Twitter archive to researchers because executing a single search could take as long as 24 hours.

"This is an inadequate situation in which to begin offering access to researchers, as it so severely limits the number of possible searches," the Library said.

The Library said that enabling rapid search capabilities of the search archive would require an "extensive infrastructure of hundreds if not thousands of servers. This is costprohibitive and impractical for a public institution."

Uh oh. Until the Library figures out a way to allow researchers to easily search its Twitter archive, the world could very be denied your every fleeting, seemingly pedestrian but actually brilliant thoughts.

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