6 Government Surveillance Programs Designed to Watch What You Do Online
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President Eisenhower was right on point about the military-industrial complex, but he could not have predicted the emergence of the massive surveillance state -- combining the government and private sector -- that bolsters it.
Sadly, neither President Obama nor his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, has the desire or moral courage to fight the growing power and influence of the Corporate Security State. We are witnessing the integration of spying on two levels, the government level (federal, state and local) and the corporate level (via telecom providers, web services and credit card companies).
If you are a user of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Craigslist or another popular site, the U.S. security state is watching you. An increasing number of federal agencies are employing sophisticated means to monitor Americans' use of social networking sites. Federal entities from the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Defense Department to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to even the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are involved in developing programs to track the American public online.
Here is a brief summary of some of the other programs.
1. Justice Department. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released a report from the DOJ’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property section, "Obtaining and Using Evidence from Social Networking Sites," that describes how evidence from social networking sites can reveal personal communications that might help "establish motives and personal relationships."
It reports that monitored data from such sites can provide location information and "prove and disprove alibis." Perhaps most illuminating, it advises agents that “going undercover” on social media sites can enable law enforcement to communicate with suspects and targets, gain access to nonpublic information and map social relationships. The DOJ document notes that Twitter retains the last login IP address, but does not preserve data unless legally required to do so.
2. The IRS uses a variety of social media sites like Facebook, Google, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and Second Life to investigate taxpayers. It seems to have started this practice in 2009, providing agents with special training on social networking. The EFF posted the IRS’ 38-page training that offers detailed tips to agents on how to conduct searches, locate relevant taxpayer information, narrow down and refine results.
3. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is seeking a tool that integrates all online information, including web searches, Wikipedia edits and traffic webcams.
4. The Defense Department has solicited proposals through DARPA for a $42 million “Social Media Strategic Communications” (SMISC) program, a tool that tracks social media and weeds out information. It has set four goals for the project: (i) to detect, classify and measure the development of ideas, concepts in hidden social media messages; (ii) specify the structure of the campaign and influence in social media sites and the community they create; (iii) identify the participants and intention in conducting a social media campaign of persuasion and measure its effect; and (iv) develop an effective counter-message to an identified campaign carried out against the enemy.
5. The FBI is soliciting a bid for a program that seems very similar to the DHS social-network monitoring program. Dubbed the "FBI Social Media Application,” the program would have "[the ability] to rapidly assemble critical open source information and intelligence ... to quickly vet, identify and geo-locate breaking events, incidents and emerging threats."
In the FBI’s 12-page solicitation, it requests a program that can quickly identify, display and locate alerts on geo-spatial maps and enable users to summarize the "who, what, when, where and why" of specific threats and incidents. Going further, it seeks to not simply detect “credible threats,” but to identify those organizing and taking part in gatherings and to predict upcoming events. According to the FBI, "Social media will be a valued source of information to the SIOC [i.e., Strategic Information and Operations Center] intelligence analyst in a crisis because it will be both eyewitness and first response to the crisis."