DHS monitoring of social media concerns civil liberties advocates

Washington Post
By Ellen Nakashima, Published: January 13

Civil liberties advocates are raising concerns that the Department of Homeland Security’s three-year-old practice of monitoring social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter could extend to tracking public reaction to news events and reports that “reflect adversely” on the U.S. government.

The activists, who obtained DHS documents through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, say one document in particular, a February 2010 analyst handbook, touts as a good example of “capturing public reaction” the monitoring of Facebook and other sites for public sentiment about the possible transfer of Guantanamo detainees to a Michigan prison.

A senior DHS official said the department does not monitor dissent or gather reports tracking citizens’ views. He said such reporting would not be useful in the types of emergencies to which officials need to respond. Officials also said that the analyst handbook is no longer in use and that the current version does not include the Guantanamo detainee reaction or similar examples.

With the explosion of digital media, DHS has joined other intelligence and law enforcement agencies in monitoring blogs and social media, which is seen as a valuable tool in anticipating trends and threats that affect homeland security, such as flu pandemics or a bomb plot.

But monitoring for “positive and negative reports” on U.S. agencies falls outside the department’s mission to “secure the nation,” said the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which obtained a copy of a contract and related material describing DHS’s social media monitoring through its FOIA suit.

According to the documents, the department’s Office of Operations Coordination and Planning awarded a contract in 2010 to Fairfax-based General Dynamics’ Advanced Information Systems. The company’s task is to provide media and social media monitoring support to Homeland Security’s National Operations Center (NOC) on a “24/7/365 basis” to enhance DHS’s “situational awareness, fusion and analysis and decision support” to senior leaders.

“The language in the documents makes it quite clear that they are looking for media reports that are critical of the agency and the U.S. government more broadly,” said Ginger McCall, director of EPIC’s open government program. “This is entirely outside of the bounds of the agency’s statutory duties, and it could have a substantial chilling effect on legitimate dissent and freedom of speech.”

But John Cohen, a senior counterterrorism adviser to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said that in his three years on the job, during which he has received every social media summary the NOC has produced, he has never seen a report summarizing negative views of DHS or any other governmental agency. Such reports, he said, “would not be the type of reporting I would consider helpful” in forming an operational response to some event or emergency.

“What I generally get are reports regarding hazmat spills, natural disasters, suspicious packages and street closures, active shooter situations, bomb threats,” Cohen said. “That is the type of information being pulled off social media.”

There is one sense in which reports of “adverse” publicity might be useful, he said: for example, alerting senior officials to the arrest of an off-duty officer for discharging his weapon.

The $11.3 million General Dynamics contract began in 2010 with a four-year renewal option. It states that the firm should provide daily social network summaries, weekly data reports and a monthly status report.The work is being done for DHS’s Office of Operations Coordination and Planning.

General Dynamics referred a request for comment to the department.

A year ago, the department released a report describing privacy guidelines on its social media monitoring program. For instance, information that can identify an individual may be collected if it “lends credibility” to the report. Officials said that would generally be provided to operational officials responding to an emergency.



With all due respect

Many people keep referring to expected future events, and the "prospect" of tyranny and resistance.

That's just not true. Tyranny is here and it has been since the 2000 elections. In the Nixon era, at least the upper echelons were afraid of criminal prosecution.

One could pick any arbitrary starting point (JFK assassination, Federal Reserve Act of 1913, etc. ) but we can certainly conclude that we aren't approaching tyranny; tyranny is upon us, right now, right here. (I'm deliberately leaving out 9/11, because that seems to me to be self-evident as another crucial pivotal point)

Occupy Wall Street shows what the right wing militia governing the United States is capable of when unleashed.

And it gave us an excellent opportunity to see what the "Oath Keepers" would do when their fellow countrymen were being violated, physically assaulted and downtrodden: they would betray them. I'm talking about Gary Franchi and the rest of that sorry bunch.

I can't say I have a direct stake in the matter because I'm not an American, but I am a leftist and leftists focus on international solidarity among workers. The images in 2011 of kids, women, workers and common people brutalized by the fascist, Wall Street owned paramilitary forces is something I won't forget, or forgive.

Which brings me to Scott Noble's film about OWS:


For which I contributed the Greece footage, only a small part of another groundbreaking, gut-wrenching resistance movie which will move you to pieces.

And by the way, this stuff about DHS monitoring Facebook.

Ha ha ha ha ha, they were doing that in Europe and the US years ago on a large scale, no holds barred. Facebook is an intelligence gathering tool, don't people get that? I never cease to be amazed by the stupidity of people signing up to Facebook. If they map your entire private life in a network graph because you offered it to them on a silver platter, you get what you deserve.

How does everybody think Able Danger worked?

If you're on Facebook, this is you:

And this only represents a fraction of the information which can be gleaned from everything you volunteer to a corporation like Facebook.

Facebook is not your friend.

Good points.

Indeed, monitorinng the social networkings like Facebook is a given.

Tracking? Raise your hand if you have any type of Smart phone or i-anything (my hands are down, I live under a rock).

It's a two sided coin, the technology can be extremely valuable and useful, even practical. However, the most of society are not treating these technologies with such care and regard. There are so many ups and downs its impossible to cover.

As far as the DHS having new mandates and written procedures to 'watch' journalists: Nothing new here other than the announcement of the fact, right? However, this is a step in the wrong direction.

Similar to the Patriot Act, Military Commission Act, the Defense Authorization Act and other acts of treason and tyranny, it's the normalization of the policy that gradually brings us further down the slope.

The DHS has a Media Monitoring Initiative via their National Operations Center (NOC)’s, I hate seeing it, but it's there. It's one of many I would like to see go.

Awareness is important, just as important as context.

For instance locking up american on US soil is no new gig. Executive Order 9066 of 1942, signed by Roosevelt, paved the way for locking up Americans.

So, when people say "we only have 5 years left," they are a little off.

I would say "our time" has not come yet and we have a lot of work to do, so stay focused on the mission at hand.

One problem I see with many people (activists) is they want an easy solution and fix tomorrow .....It's quite unrealistic.

I say think about the long-term, because we need to be intent.

A word of warning from the horse's mouth

"I think most of you would accept that individuals do require a degree of privacy, even if you have a tendency to give it up voluntarily on the internet — my advice is don't"


— Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6


FBI agent admits deleting

FBI agent admits deleting emails amid terror probe. FBI agent was member of so-called "dirty" team that did an initial intelligence-gathering interview of Ahmed without reading him his Miranda rights.