The U.K's Daily Mail reports:
The Department of Homeland Security [DHS] has been forced to release a list of keywords and phrases it uses to monitor social networking sites and online media for signs of terrorist or other threats against the U.S.The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) obtained the list of mostly-innocuous words DHS finds important enough to include in a guide for analysts whose goal is to
[identify] media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities.The list includes completely innocent words anyone would use in social networking, such as
fluAccording to the list, the word matches for possible "threats" are expanded exponentially if DHS monitors something like my Daily Kos blogs - often critical of government policy. The list also includes countless words I have written on Kos countless times:
JihadYes, DHS uses the word "Threat" to detect threats. Also, my job title alone - "National Security and Human Rights Director" - makes the list ("national security") as do some of the tags for this diary ("homeland security").
Between these and the completely benign words on the list, like "flu" and "help," my blogs could be considered a serious "threat," or would at least be pinged for monitoring. EPIC warned about the dangers of such monitoring:
In a letter to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counter-terrorism and Intelligence, the centre [EPIC] described the choice of words as 'broad, vague and ambiguous'. . . .
They point out that it includes 'vast amounts of First Amendment protected speech that is entirely unrelated to the Department of Homeland Security mission to protect the public against terrorism and disasters.'
DHS offered little more than bureaucratic double-speak to defend the lists of every-day words DHS is using to detect supposed "threats:"
A senior Homeland Security official told the Huffington Post that the manual 'is a starting point, not the endgame' in maintaining situational awareness of natural and man-made threats and denied that the government was monitoring signs of dissent.Considering the government's record of misleading the public about spy powers, a healthy dose of skepticism toward DHS's "reassurance" that it is not abusing power seems more than appropriate - it is necessary.
Case in point. Late last week, National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower and client of my organization (Government Accountability Project) Bill Binney and American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Counsel Michelle Richardson appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the upcoming re-authorization of the FISA Amendments Act - a 2008 law that further expanded NSA's surveillance powers after the New York Times exposed NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. Watch the full segment here:
With a few exceptions (kudos to Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO)), Congress has been largely complicit in affording the government every-expanding spy powers despite the fact that whistleblowers like Binney continue to warn about a burgeoning surveillance state that threatens Americans' liberty and despite the fact that the intelligence community is regularly found to have abused, misused, and covered-up wrongdoing associated with expanded surveillance powers.