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: Twitter blocks two accounts on its Turkish network

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

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

Apr 18, 2014

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

Apr 18, 2014

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

White House updating online privacy policy

Apr 18, 2014

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Hackers of Oman news agency target Bouteflika

Hackers on Sunday targeted the website of Oman's official news agency, singling out and mocking Algeria's newly re-elected president Abdelaziz Bouteflika as a handicapped "dictator".

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Easter morning delivery for space station

Space station astronauts got a special Easter treat: a cargo ship full of supplies. The shipment arrived Sunday morning via the SpaceX company's Dragon cargo capsule.