Lawmakers concerned by US social media monitoring

Feb 17, 2012 by Chris Lefkow

US lawmakers expressed concern on Thursday over the monitoring of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter by the Department of Homeland Security.

Department officials defended the practice, meanwhile, at a congressional hearing, saying they monitor mostly for "situational awareness" about breaking news events and adhere to strict privacy guidelines.

Representative Patrick Meehan, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, said he backs "intelligence collection within the rules of law" but has free speech concerns.

"In my view, collecting, analyzing, and disseminating private citizens' comments could have a chilling effect on individual's privacy rights and people's and dissent against their government," Meehan said.

"I fully recognize that if an individual willingly uses Facebook, , or the comments section of a newspaper website, they in effect forfeit their right to an expectation of privacy," the Republican from Pennsylvania said.

"However, other private individuals reading your is different than the Department of Homeland Security reading them, analyzing them and possibly disseminating and collecting them for future purposes," he said.

Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, said she was disturbed by of social media for reaction to government policies or programs and that it should not be a "political operation."

Richard Chavez, the director of Homeland Security's Office of Operations Coordination and Planning, told the committee that the monitoring program was not being used for that purpose.

"I am not aware of any information we have gathered on government proposals," he said.

The monitoring of social media by Homeland Security came to light following a lawsuit filed in December by the Information Center. It is being carried out under an $11 million contract with General Dynamics.

Mary Ellen Callahan, Homeland Security's chief privacy officer, told the committee that strict protections for privacy and civil liberties have been built into the program.

"If you can't do it offline, you can't do it online," Callahan said.

"We don't collect information on individuals," she said. "We do not monitor them.

"But individuals may be the first person at the scene," she said. "They may go and report there's been a train derailment in Michigan."

Chavez said the monitoring was of "keywords associated with events" such as natural disasters and potential security threats but not of individuals.

The is not the only US government agency interested in mining social media.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation asked information technology contractors last month about the feasibility of building a similar monitoring tool.

The FBI said it is seeking an "open source and social media alert, mapping and analysis application solution" for its Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC).

"Social media has become a primary source of intelligence because it has become the premier first response to key events and the primal alert to possible developing situations," the January 19 request from the FBI said.

The FBI said the tool "must have the ability to rapidly assemble critical open source information and intelligence that will allow SIOC to quickly vet, identity, and geo-locate breaking events, incidents and emerging threats."

Explore further: Startups offer banking for smartphone users

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Homeland Security and spy agency to work together

Oct 14, 2010

(AP) -- Computer experts at the secretive National Security Agency are teaming up with the Homeland Security Department in an effort to strengthen the nation's defenses against cyber attacks.

US wants privacy in new cyber security system

Jul 03, 2009

(AP) -- The Obama administration is moving cautiously on a new pilot program that would both detect and stop cyber attacks against government computers, while trying to ensure citizen privacy protections.

US cybersecurity efforts trigger privacy concerns

Jan 27, 2012

(AP) -- The federal government's plan to expand computer security protections into critical parts of private industry is raising concerns that the move will threaten Americans' civil liberties.

Recommended for you

Startups offer banking for smartphone users

11 hours ago

The latest banks are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Startups, such as Moven and Simple, offer banking that's designed specifically for smartphones, enabling users to track their spending on the go. Some things ...

'SwaziLeaks' looks to shake up jet-setting monarchy

Aug 29, 2014

As WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange prepares to end a two-year forced stay at Ecuador's London embassy, he may take comfort in knowing he inspired resistance to secrecy in places as far away as Swaziland.

Ecuador heralds digital currency plans (Update)

Aug 29, 2014

Ecuador is planning to create what it calls the world's first digital currency issued by a central bank, which some analysts believe could be a first step toward abandoning the country's existing currency, ...

WEF unveils 'crowdsourcing' push on how to run the Web

Aug 28, 2014

The World Economic Forum unveiled a project on Thursday aimed at connecting governments, businesses, academia, technicians and civil society worldwide to brainstorm the best ways to govern the Internet.

User comments : 0