There was a rather interesting gathering of people for a Congressional hearing today, and not the one where only men were discussion female contraception, but rather the one where representatives from the Department of Homeland Security were trying to explain to Congress why they were monitoring things like Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
Things didn’t go so well for DHS once the members of the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Intelligence realized that DHS Chief Privacy Office Mary Ellen Callahan and Director of Operations Coordination and Planning Richard Chavez was spending more time stonewalling the committee than actually answering any questions from the committee members.
However one thing became abundantly clear during the questioning – if you break news on Twitter about a story or you are a community activist making public Facebook posts the DHS will have all of your personal information.
Another interesting fact that came out was that all social media and blog monitoring is subcontracted by the DHS to the giant defense contractor General Dynamics and that the contract was never offered to any outside parties. It probably also didn’t help placate the committee members when Chavez was caught red-handed misleading the Committee about the company’s sole status.
The DHS, meanwhile, is truly interested in breaking news tweets. The Twitter handles, Facebook names and blog urls of first witnesses to news events (the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords and a January 2012 bomb threat at an Austin, Texas, school were specifically cited) are being recorded. Homeland Security claims this information is only used to verify reports, and that dossiers are not being assembled on private citizens and that personally identifying information is regularly scrubbed from their servers.
Another worrying tendency is the fact that DHS appears to be keeping tabs on individual American citizens engaged in community activism and hot-button political issues. EPIC’s evidence package to congress included FOIA-obtained data on community reaction to thehousing of Guantanamo detainees in a Standish, MI prison. Against the DHS’ own guidelines, the agency compiled a report titled Residents Voice Opposition Over Possible Plan to Bring Guantanamo Detainees to Local Prison-Standish MI. This report contained sentiment gathered from newspaper comment talkbacks, local blogs, Twitter posts, and publicly available Facebook posts–something expressly forbidden by the DHS’ own policies.
via Fast Company
I am pretty sure that none of this news is of any real surprise to anyone who watches agencies like DHS or the government but it might be wise to think twice about tweeting about your thoughts or posting to Facebook if you get ticked off at the government.
In the meanwhile here a short video of the meeting for you to snicker at.