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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

 
Watch what you tweet

by digby

According to the Huffington Post, police are using sophisticated data mining tools to track everything anyone says on social media, using crude search words like "bomb" (which could return millions of potential hits every Monday when people talk about the week-end movie openings.) But I'm sure they love this new toy and are constantly thinking up new ways to use it.

I think this sums up the potential problem with this quite nicely:
"The problem is if you don't have a specific law enforcement purpose for using the monitoring tools," said Keenan. "Why are you monitoring tweets? What type of information are you going to be collecting? How long are you going to retain it? That has to be addressed before you employ the technology." 
Two years ago, privacy advocates found the Department of Homeland Security was monitoring social media sites to track public reaction to negative news about the U.S. government.
Now, it's true that twitter is a public medium which means that nothing you say on it is truly private. You know that going in. But do you feel good about the fact that government agencies are hiring private contractors to monitor it for the opinions of citizens? Any chance that could go wrong in some way?

Here's what the DHS was found to have been doing:
According to the documents, the department’s Office of Operations Coordination and Planning awarded a contract in 2010 to Fairfax-based General Dynamics’ Advanced Information Systems. The company’s task is to provide media and social media monitoring support to Homeland Security’s National Operations Center (NOC) on a “24/7/365 basis” to enhance DHS’s “situational awareness, fusion and analysis and decision support” to senior leaders.

“The language in the documents makes it quite clear that they are looking for media reports that are critical of the agency and the U.S. government more broadly,” said Ginger McCall, director of EPIC’s open government program. “This is entirely outside of the bounds of the agency’s statutory duties, and it could have a substantial chilling effect on legitimate dissent and freedom of speech.”

But John Cohen, a senior counterterrorism adviser to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said that in his three years on the job, during which he has received every social media summary the NOC has produced, he has never seen a report summarizing negative views of DHS or any other governmental agency. Such reports, he said, “would not be the type of reporting I would consider helpful” in forming an operational response to some event or emergency.
Well that's good. He sounds like a very solid, trustworthy guy so we can all relax about it. And as long as you don't blog, tweet or post anything on Facebook that might look suspicious to law enforcement (whatever that might be to the individuals involved on a given day) you have nothing to worry about anyway.

Well, unless you happen to be someone who raises suspicions with your googling habits:
Suffolk County Criminal Intelligence Detectives received a tip from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee. The former employee’s computer searches took place on this employee’s workplace computer. On that computer, the employee searched the terms “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks.”

After interviewing the company representatives, Suffolk County Police Detectives visited the subject’s home to ask about the suspicious internet searches. The incident was investigated by Suffolk County Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Detectives and was determined to be non-criminal in nature.
The authorities rousted them pretty hard for that.
[T]hey were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked. ...

Have you ever looked up how to make a pressure cooker bomb? My husband, ever the oppositional kind, asked them if they themselves weren’t curious as to how a pressure cooker bomb works, if they ever looked it up. Two of them admitted they did.
I looked it up too. It never occurred to me that simply seeking such information could get me in trouble. But then again, I didn't know that tweeting the words "white powder" could raise suspicions of terrorism either. Live and learn.

Now this incident sprang from a tip from the man's employer, so it's not an example of surveillance run amock. It's an example of how police now find that simply using certain words or seeking information is cause for suspicion. Just saying.

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