Two government agencies recently created to of course assist in the defense of our freedom; the National Security Administration (NSA) and Dept. of Homeland Security have come out with disturbing moves that should awaken those to the fact that our every move is being watched. Homeland Security recently came out with a memo saying that it has the legal means to access our online correspondence such as email and facebook accounts without a warrant. Now, it appears they also believe that monitoring such accounts are vital to protecting America from 'extremists.' What's concerning here is that Janet Napolitano, the director of Homeland Security has recently came out and said that the definition of an extremist could be any right wing fanatic--such as Christians and Tea Party members. She further stated that domestic extremists pose a greater threat that international terrorists. Lovely.
A White House terrorism strategy released today says Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks aid in "advancing violent extremist narratives" and should be monitored by the government.
The 12-page strategy (PDF), which outlines ways to respond to violent extremism, promises that: "We will continue to closely monitor the important role the Internet and social-networking sites play in advancing violent extremist narratives."
President Obama said in a statement accompanying the report that the federal government will start "helping communities to better understand and protect themselves against violent extremist propaganda, especially online."
While much of the White House document is focused on al Qaeda--which The Washington Post recently reported is on the "brink of collapse"--it also talks about domestic terrorists, neo-Nazis, anti-Semitic groups, and a broad "range of ideologies" that promote radicalization.
Today's announcement may signal that monitoring of social networks will broaden beyond the U.S. Department of Homeland Security already does. Depending on the details, it could also raise concerns about how to balance Americans' privacy rights with desire of security agencies to collect and analyze information that is, more or less, publicly available.
In June 2010, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed publicly (PDF) that its agents were permitted to create accounts on social-networking sites in some situations.
DHS's National Operations Center "will monitor activities on the social-media sites" using search engines, aggregators, and other tools, last year's announcement said. "The NOC will gather, store, analyze, and disseminate relevant and appropriate de-identified information to federal, state, local, and foreign governments, and private sector partners..."
In addition, the Electronic Frontier Foundation unearthed documents showing that DHS officials were sending "friend" requests to people applying for U.S. citizenship. DHS conducted extensive monitoring of social networks during Obama's inauguration.
In 2009, CIA investment arm In-Q-Tel invested in Visible Technologies, which monitors millions of posts on social-networking Web sites, Wired reported. Tax collectors, too, are "nabbing scofflaws by mining information posted on social-networking Web sites," according to The Wall Street Journal, and the FBI has previously supported legislation that would allow federal police to monitor the Internet for "illegal activity."
This move toward monitoring social networks hasn't been without controversy. A New York Times editorial suggested these techniques may go too far: "If government agents are joining social networks under false pretenses to spy without a court order, for example, that might be crossing a line."
It's also not been limited to the United States.
In 2009, the U.K. Home Office announced that it would monitor all conversations on social-networking sites, including Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter, and Skype, in a crackdown on terrorists' use of the Internet. So has the Chilean government. And, of course, some repressive regimes have simply blocked Web sites completely.