Why is the government monitoring social media networks?

Has the “war on terror” gone too far? Yes, say law-abiding citizens who feel targeted by the Fed's newest belligerent actions – against them. Photo: AP images

DALLAS, February 28, 2012 — When a facebook user posted a negative comment about a presidential candidate to a private page, he found himself in a whole mess of trouble, with authorities showing up at his workplace and later arriving at his home to interrogate him.

According to Jason Brashear of Citizen Wars who reported Sunday that the facebook user, also named Jason, had contacted him with the story, a local police officer and two sheriffs showed up at his home, explaining, “We are here because of a possible threat to Senator Santorum based on your Facebook comment.”

The comment in question? “I wish there was a magic wand to make Senator Santorum disappear,” which Jason had posted to a private political thread.

The officer explained he had made his appearance at Jason’s house,

“..to view the home and make sure that there were no pictures of the former Senator Rick Santorum or evidence that Jason was planning something against the former Senator.”

The officer explained the US Government has a system to monitor and scan all social sites like Facebook for key words that might raise suspension of ill intent. The officer stated that Jason was ‘flagged due to his post on Facebook.’ 

Chris Frierson said, “we are here to warn you that there is a very fine line between freedom of speech and a threat.” He told Jason “Be thankful that it is just the Austin Police Department here and not the secret service as they would be going through your entire house and documents.”

The officer said that he concluded Jason was not a threat and reported that in his statement.

This disturbing story coincides with reports from last week that The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been paying a defense contractor $11.4 million to monitor social media websites and other Internet communications to find criticisms of the department’s policies and actions. Noel Brinkerhoff reports that a government watchdog organization, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), obtained hundreds of documents from DHS through the Freedom of Information Act and found details of the arrangement with a contractor, General Dynamics.

The company was contracted to monitor the web not only for “potential threats and hazards,” but also to see the  “potential impact on DHS capability.” General Dynamics also looks for  “reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government, DHS, or sub-agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In a testimony submitted to the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, Ginger McCall, director of EPIC’s Open Government Project, stated that, “the agency is monitoring constantly, under very broad search terms, and is not limiting that monitoring to events or activities related to natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or manmade disasters.”

EPIC wasn’t able to acquire these documents for a song, though. When they first asked for access to them in April, under the Freedom of Information Act, they were denied, and were only able to obtain the documents months later, after a lawsuit. You can read their full report here.

In another episode that has infuriated concerned citizens, the FBI released a flyer earlier this month which outlined methods for internet café owners to identify potential terrorists.

Included on the list were such tell-tale behaviors as,

  1. Repeatedly paying for coffee with cash;
  2. Trying to shield the computer screen so that others can’t see personal or credit card information;
  3. Using web search engines to look up information about “police” or “government”;
  4. Obtaining photos, maps or diagrams of transportation, sporting venues, or populated locations 


What do these three stories all have in common?

Law-abiding Americans who are active online are afraid that these reports indicate a paranoid governmental system which may have an unhealthy obsession with repression of dissent. Many are pointing to the Obama administration’s extensive exploitation of the 1917 Espionage Act, said David Carr in the New York Times on Sunday,

“The Obama administration, which promised during its transition to power that it would enhance ‘whistle-blower laws to protect federal workers,’ has been more prone than any administration in history in trying to silence and prosecute federal workers.”

Indeed, the Espionage Act, which was enacted in 1917 for the purpose of cracking down on spies who provided information to foreign powers at war with the US, was used only three times in all of the prior administrations to bring cases against government officials accused of providing classified information to the media. It has been used six times since the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

“In case after case,” Carr argues, “the Espionage Act has been deployed as a kind of ad hoc Official Secrets Act, which is not a law that has ever found traction in America, a place where the people’s right to know is viewed as superseding the government’s right to hide its business.

Jesselyn Radack, director for national security and human rights at the Government Accountability Project, weighed in on the issue, saying that, “the Obama administration has been quite hypocritical about its promises of openness, transparency and accountability. All presidents hate leaks, but pursuing whistle-blowers as spies is heavy-handed and beyond the scope of the law.”

You be the judge. After all, it’s your money. Do you think that spending $11.4 million on a program to track your internet activity is a good use of your money?


A history buff, self-taught artist, and enthusiastic autodidact, Bryana brings her always politically incorrect and usually passionate views about politics and the theory of government to her readers. In addition to writing for the TWTC, she also writes for The College Conservative and maintains the official High Tide Journal at www.thehightide.com. Find her on twitter.


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Bryana Johnson

Passionate about liberty, and the theory of government, Bryana serves as the vice president of a local political club and reports on political happenings around the globe.
 
In addition to her political activities, Bryana has won prizes in multiple poetry contests and her first poetry collection, Having Decided To Stay, was released in 2012. She writes regularly about the good life, literature and the world’s great Lover over at www.bryanajohnson.com. You can follow her on twitter at @_Bryana_Johnson and on facebook. 

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