The US government is keeping tabs on our online escapades. They’re doing things like:
- Monitoring social media sites.
- Tracking users’ comments.
- Data mining Twitter feeds and Facebook updates for keywords.
In the age of social media, the federal government’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been reading Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social networks for years, says Politico. But now the FBI and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are seeking out private tech vendors for technology which can scrape social media sites for billions of keyword hits daily. These could range from the more obvious (“cyberattack”) to the seemingly innocuous (“snow”).
Moreover, DARPA, which oversees technology and R & D for the military, sent out a call last summer for “innovative research proposals” to better enable it to use social media for military operations. DARPA documents say that the intent is to create a system to “detect, classify, measure, track and influence events in social media at data scale and in a timely fashion,” according to DARPA documents.
Both the FBI and DARPA say that “personally identifiable information won’t be collected and stored.” But the DHS program is another matter:
.. [the program] allows for the culling of such data in cases involving a narrow niche of folks, ranging from senior U.S. and foreign government officials to terrorists and drug cartel leaders, according to a DHS privacy compliance review from November. Personal information gathered on anyone else is supposed to be “redacted immediately before further use and sharing,” the privacy document says.
DHS has told Politico that it is seeking to mine only data that is available in public online fora. But two privacy groups, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have already filed lawsuits against DHS regarding “the release of documents about policies and contracts governing its social media monitoring program.” The EPIC is also demanding that DHS suspend its monitoring program.
EFF staff attorney Jennifer Lynch describes the awkward dance the government has found it in. “The government is still trying to navigate social media, and they’ve definitely overstepped their boundaries on certain issues,” she comments.
It’s no secret that Chinese Communist authorities monitor microblogging sites and keep track of certain keywords and of who is using them. Twitter itself being banned in China, users rely on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo. On March 31, both services announced a 72-hour suspension of the comment function. The suspension happened after Chinese microbloggers had spread rumors about an overnight coup in Beijing.
Someone is keeping track of what’s said on any online forum in China. But is the U.S. government starting to look — to be — a bit too much like China as it seeks to keep an eye on whatever is said on Twitter and other social media sites?
Do you know who’s reading your Twitter feed now?
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