Madison Ruppert, Contributing Writer
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has been leading a valiant effort to reveal the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Big Brother policies which include spying on Americans’ activity on social networks, especially people who express dissenting opinions.
EPIC is now claiming that the DHS actually lied to Congress during a hearing (read the transcript here) surrounding the DHS’s $11.4 million contract to monitor social networks for activity which is fully protected by free speech.
The group first published a significant amount of documents on this program, which was contracted to General Dynamics, in January. However, the second round of previously secret documents obtained by the group shows that the testimony given on the February 16 hearing by DHS was highly misleading.
Indeed, according to an interview given to Raw Story, EPIC found that the DHS actually ordered their analysts to do precisely what they vehemently denied during the hearing.
Ginger McCall, director of EPIC’s Open Government Project, has sent a letter to the ranking members of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, detailing this deception although aides for subcommittee chairman Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican, and ranking member Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, said that they had yet to read the letter, without any further elaboration.
Jackie Speier recently made news here at End the Lie for her opposition to the DHS program and her calls to end the practice – something which other government officials have steered clear of.
According to McCall, “There were several exchanges that [the DHS] had with members of Congress in which they sort of distanced themselves from the idea — that they weren’t engaging in this monitoring of public reaction to government proposals. But that’s… Well, it’s not true, according to the documents we obtained.”
“The DHS testimony, as well as the documents obtained by EPIC, indicate 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,” McCall explained to lawmakers. “The monitoring is designed to be over-broad, and sweeps in large amounts of First Amendment activity. The DHS has no legal authority to engage in this monitoring.”
Of course the DHS regularly claims that the program is limited by their Privacy Impact Assessment which supposedly limits the amount of personally identifiable information (PII) collected.
This is somewhat like the claims made by FEMA, although at least they openly admit that they associate the author of the content with the content itself.
On the other hand, the DHS maintains that they only use such PII when it is a life and death situation.
However, the documents obtained through EPIC’s hard work reveal that there might be some overlap between the two programs.
In the case of the DHS program, analysts were instructed to look for “both positive and negative reports” about many of the agencies that fall under the DHS umbrella including, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and then the wide-open designation of “organizations outside of DHS.”
Of course, it doesn’t end there with calls to watch social media for discussions pertaining to many policies which the government obviously is worried about including drug policies, matters of cybersecurity, immigration policies and, unsurprisingly, American foreign policy.
Obviously the last item on that list brings up some heated debates and dissent; however, all of these issues are completely and totally covered by our Constitutional right to freedom of speech, hence McCall’s statement that the DHS “has no legal authority” to conduct such activities.
This has a profound effect on free speech online if you feel like a government law enforcement agency — particularly the Department of Homeland Security, which is supposed to look for terrorists — is monitoring your criticism, your dissent, of the government,” McCall told Raw Story.
This is precisely correct and is what some people refer to as the “chilling effect” wherein people will simply stifle their own free speech because they know that some gigantic government agency might be watching over their shoulder – in a fashion even George Orwell probably couldn’t predict – and especially when that same agency is supposed to be out looking for terrorists.
Part of the latest round of documents, which came after DHS officials nonsensically claimed that monitoring of dissent among Americans online was merely discussed and never actually implemented, brought what might be the most interesting document yet.
This is the DHS manual for analysts who monitor social media, which appears to be issued some time in 2001.
The manual, which you can read in full by clicking below, is replete with explicit instructions on what analysts working for the DHS should look out for in their domestic spying activities.
While the hearings have been far from conclusive and General Dynamics has been tight-lipped on the issue, EPIC has resolved to continue their admirable lawsuit against the DHS over their very possibly illegal activities.
They also said that they would continue to push Congress to hold hearings on the issue and have proposed that Congress immediately the program in its entirety.
Furthermore, they have called for Congress to conduct an investigation into if these same practices are going on within the ranks of other government agencies – which I think is a given.
It seems especially likely when one considers the Air Force’s call for so-called persona management software, along with their call to create a worldwide “social radar” which would make the DHS program look like child’s play.
Unfortunately, the original posting on the Federal Business Opportunities website appears to have been taken down, but thankfully there are plenty of articles still available which detail what it said.
Considering all of the Big Brother activities our government engages in, it seems that our so-called leaders are incredibly paranoid.
This begs the question: what are they so afraid of?
If we pay attention to their documents, it is very clear what it is that they are so afraid of and that is dissent.
This becomes even more obvious when one looks at the massive pushes to crack down on Internet freedom, put more control into the hands of either the DHS or the NSA and military (depending on the proposed legislation) and restrict the ability of Americans to express their disapproval of a criminal, wildly out of control government.
The internet is one of the best ways to reach out to like-minded people and share critical information not otherwise available and it is very clear that the government knows this.
The types of Big Brother policies uncovered by EPIC are the symptom of a truly sick government seeking to stifle dissent by putting fear into the hearts of the American people.
Without a great number of Americans standing up and dissenting, we can expect this kind of behavior to continue. Furthermore, it is our responsibility to put as much pressure as humanly possible on our so-called representatives to actually do something about this.
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