Imagine for a moment, that you write articles for any one of a number of political blogs, posting them on various social media websites. How would you feel knowing that the federal government has permission to monitor your activities and collect personal information about you?
Does the phrase “Big Brother” come to mind?
The Blaze reported Monday that the Department of Homeland Security now has permission under the National Operations Center (NOC)’s Media Monitoring Initiative to collect and retain personal information on “journalists, news anchors, reporters or anyone who uses ‘traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.’”
Citing a report at Russia Today, Tiffany Gabbay wrote:
According to DHS, the definition of personal identifiable information can consist of any intellect “that permits the identity of an individual to be directly or indirectly inferred, including any information which is linked or linkable to that individual.”
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the original purpose of the initiative was expanded in June 2010 to monitor “publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites, and message boards to collect information used in providing situational awareness and establishing a common operating picture.”
The DHS Privacy Office (PRIV) and OPS/NOC decided to further broaden the program’s capability to collect additional information, including limited instances of personally identifiable information (PII). As such, a Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) Update and new DHS/OPS-004 – Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative System of Records Notice (SORN) were issued on January 6, 2011 and February 1, 2011 respectively and are the basis for this Privacy Compliance Review (PCR).
PRIV found OPS/NOC to be in compliance with the privacy parameters set forth in the January 6, 2011 PIA update and February 1, 2011 SORN.
A PDF file at DHS says that under certain circumstances, it is allowed to collect personally identifiable information (PII) on:
1) U.S. and foreign individuals in extremis situations involving potential life or death circumstances; 2) senior U.S. and foreign government officials who make public statements or provide public updates; 3) U.S. and foreign government spokespersons who make public statements or provide public updates; 4) U.S. and foreign private sector officials and spokespersons who make public statements or provide public updates; 5) names of anchors, newscasters, or on-scene reporters who are known or identified as reporters in their post or article or who use traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed; 6) current and former public officials who are victims of incidents or activities related to Homeland Security; and 7) terrorists, drug cartel leaders, or other persons known to have been involved in major crimes of Homeland Security interest.
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s own definition of personal identifiable information, or PII, such data could consist of any intellect “that permits the identity of an individual to be directly or indirectly inferred, including any information which is linked or linkable to that individual.” Previously established guidelines within the administration say that data could only be collected under authorization set forth by written code, but the new provisions in the NOC’s write-up means that any reporter, whether someone along the lines of Walter Cronkite or a budding blogger, can be victimized by the agency.
Also included in the roster of those subjected to the spying are government officials, domestic or not, who make public statements, private sector employees that do the same and “persons known to have been involved in major crimes of Homeland Security interest,” which to itself opens up the possibilities even wider.
Although the agency says it will only collect data that is publicly available, the question remains: Why is the federal government spending time and taxpayer money monitoring people who write or report online?
No doubt, were this to happen under George W. Bush, the media would be howling with indignation – and rightly so. So far, however, very little has been said.
RT.com adds that the data collected “is being shared with both private sector businesses and international third parties,” but does not specify who those parties are.
According to DHS, twelve email reports between December 2010 and August 2011 contained unnecessary personal information and redaction notices were sent to the recipients.
The report adds that the agency is required to maintain a log of social media monitoring activity.
But not to worry – just because the government is monitoring online activites of writers, bloggers and journalists, the federal government says it is doing all it can to keep that information private.
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