6 Government Surveillance Programs Designed to Watch What You Do Online
Continued from previous page
An FBI spokesperson insisted, "[We] will not focus on specific persons or protected groups, but on words that relate to 'events' and 'crisis' and activities constituting violations of federal criminal law or threats to national security. Examples of these words will include lockdown, bomb, suspicious package, white powder, active shoot, school lockdown, etc.” Rest assured, much like the assurances voiced by the DHS, the FBI insists that its monitoring won't be used to focus on specific individuals or groups.
6. Department of Homeland Security. A more aggressive monitoring program was recently revealed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) when it secured from the DHS a list of approximately 380 keywords that the agency tracks. The allegedly threatening terms were found in the DHS’ Analyst Desktop Binder, part of its 2011 Media Monitoring Capability (MMC) program.
These terms are organized into nine categories:
Agencies – 26 terms, including “DHS,” “FBI”, “CIA,” “Air Marshal,” “United Nations” and “Red Cross”;
Domestic security – 52 terms, including "assassination," "dirty bomb," “crash,” “first responder,” “screening” and “death.”
Hazardous materials – 34 terms, including "hazmat," “nuclear," “leak,” “burn” and “cloud.”
Public health – 47 terms, including "ebola," "contamination," “wave,” “pork” and “agriculture.”
Infrastructure security – 35 terms, including “AMTRAK,” “airport," "subway," “port,” “electric” and “cancelled.”
Southwest border violence – 65 terms, including "drug cartel," "decapitated," “gunfight,” “marijuana,” “heroin,” “border” and “bust.”
Terrorism – 55 terms, including “Jihad,” “biological weapons,” “suicide attack,” “plot” and “pirates.”
Emergencies and weather – 41 terms, including “disaster,” "hurricane," "power outage," “ice,” “storm” and “help.”
Cyber security – 25 terms, including “cyber terror,” “malware,” “virus,” “hacker,” “worm,” “China” and “Trojan.”
The DHS has been engaged in monitoring social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and LinkedIn as well as blogs since at least 2010. Its effort is run through the Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS), National Operations Center (NOC), and is entitled “Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness (Initiative).” Its ostensible purpose is to provide situational awareness and strengthen its common operating picture.
The scope of DHS’ practice of social monitoring was unexpectedly revealed in a special congressional hearing, the House Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Intelligence, headed by Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), in February. Two DHS officials, Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan and Director of Operations Coordination and Planning Richard Chavez, raised the representatives' ire by appearing to be deliberately stonewalling on the scope and practice of the agency's social media surveillance.
Most disturbing, the DHS reps appeared unsure about the monitoring program’s goals, how the gathered information would be used and whether it would be shared with other agencies. In an unusual show of bipartisan unity, Reps. Billy Long (R-MO), Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) joined Rep. Meehan in chastising the DHS officials.
Under intense congressional probing, DHS reps revealed that the keywords chosen for monitoring were drawn from commercially available, off-the-shelf database programs that were customized to meet its specifications. The agency was particularly interested in determining first witnesses to breaking events like the 2011 Tucson shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and others and the January 2012 bomb threat at an Austin school.
The DHS reps insisted that data gathered was only used to confirm other news reports and that information on private citizens was not being collected. In addition, they claimed that that all personally identifying information was regularly scrubbed from the agency’s servers.
Few should feel comforted by the DHS assurances. At the House hearing, it was also revealed that the agency was involved in what appears to be an ongoing campaign to monitor the actions and beliefs of individual Americans engaged in community-based political activism. It compiled a report, “Residents Voice Opposition Over Possible Plan to Bring Guantanamo Detainees to Local Prison-Standish MI,” that tracked community reactions to the proposed location of Guantánamo detainees in a local Michigan prison.