In an effort to target “domestic extremists,” the Department of Homeland Security is deploying Big Tech to spy on Americans through social media and report on whether they might be a threat.
NBC News reported a “sweeping set of policy changes” to improve the way the government collects data includes “the sorts of public social media posts that threatened an attack on the U.S. Capitol” in January.
The FBI and other agencies have seen the posts, the report said, but determined they weren’t “actionable,” cited unnamed senior officials.
“DHS plans to expand its relationships with companies that scour public data for intelligence, one of the senior officials said, as well as to better harness the vast trove of data it already collects about Americans, including travel and commercial data through Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service and other DHS components,” the report said.
“Gee, what could possibly go wrong with this?” The Conservative Treehouse blog commented.
“From the description it appears DHS is going to pay ‘big tech’ (Google, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, etc.) via contracts, to hire and organize internal monitoring teams to assist the government by sending information citizens they deem ‘dangerous,'” the blog said.
“Expand your thinking to what was initiated with the COVID model for ‘contact tracing’ and you can quickly see how physical proximity to a rogue dissident, a person with wrong thoughts – aka a domestic extremist, can result in you being labeled along with that dissident … and you are on the list. Then overlay the efforts of Big Tech to assist the administrative state with an electronic trail of your habits, contacts, phone calls, text messages and internet patterns … and you are on the list.”
The NBC report cited a senior official who said DHS also is thinking about changes to its terrorist watch list “to see if there are ways we can leverage it to take into account international and domestic travel of known violent extremists.”
One official said: “The idea is to identify people who may through their social media behavior be prone to influence by toxic messaging spread by foreign governments, terrorists and domestic extremists. We want to Identify the narratives that are emerging, assess which narratives are likely to incite violence, figure out what targets are likely and then take steps to mitigate the risk.”
The source said the government is doing this “in a very careful way that is mindful of privacy and civil liberties, because it’s focusing on narratives, not people.”
The DHS said in a statement: “Domestic violent extremism poses the most lethal, persistent terrorism-related threat to our homeland today. Under Secretary Mayorkas’ leadership, DHS is working closely with federal, state, local, tribal, and non-government partners to address this threat, and all of our efforts are carried out in close coordination with our privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties experts.”
NBC pointed out that “using sophisticated computer analytical tools” to watch Americans “is likely to spark concerns among civil liberties activists.”
“And while Americans have long been among those on the government’s various watch lists, a move to restrict the travel of those deemed to be domestic violent extremists — without charging them with crimes — is also likely to be controversial,” the report said.
Rachel Levinson-Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice told NBC: “The story of DHS really is one of overreaching. And given the urgency of the moment, these periods don’t necessarily lend themselves to really being careful and judicious about how information is collected and kept.”
NBC noted DHS long has “mined” public social media for intelligence and was criticized last year for publishing intel reports that included comment on American journalists covering the riots in Portland, Oregon.
The report said Chad Wolf, then the DHS secretary, closed down the collection program.
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