Rep. Jackie Speier stands up against DHS Big Brother policies
By End the Lie
It remains to be seen if anything will actually come of this, but regardless the stand taken by Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, in a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing is not only highly abnormal but in my opinion, quite admirable.
During the hearing Speier said that she wants the Department of Homeland Security to cease their social media and news monitoring operations which were recently revealed in great detail thanks to the hard work of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
EPIC is currently pursuing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in order to obtain more information about their surveillance programs targeting social media, news organizations and bloggers.
In fact, the EPIC v. DHS suit has already turned up documents which revealed that the agency was focusing on tracking media stories which “reflect adversely” on the agency or the government of the United States as a whole.
EPIC originally sent their request for the documents in April 2004 but was finally forced to file suit in December of 2011 because of the typical dismissive DHS response to the FOIA request.
Among the almost 300 pages of documents obtained through EPIC’s FOIA lawsuit, some highlights include that the DHS instructed General Dynamics (the contractor in charge of the program) to “[identify] media reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government, DHS or prevent, protect respond or recovery activities” along with capturing “public reaction to major government proposals.”
General Dynamics was also told to create “reports on DHS, Components, and other Federal Agencies: positive and negative reports on FEMA, CIA, CBP, ICE, etc. as well as organizations outside the DHS.”
If they are monitoring websites like End the Lie (which they very well might be seeing as they are monitoring “online forums, blogs, public websites, and messages boards” I am sure they would have a considerable number of negative reports I have penned about the DHS and the countless other corrupt federal agencies.
While they produced a list of the websites they are monitoring, I highly doubt that it is an exhaustive list, furthermore, some of the sites include services like Twitter and RSS aggregators which would open up the monitored content to just about anything on the internet.
From what I can tell, the list of websites is nothing more than a starting point, given that Google Blog Search is one of the listed websites and that could easily be used to find alternative news blogs like End the Lie and others.
The problem is not only that they are collecting this information, but that they are actually going through the effort to link individuals with the articles, something which Speier highlighted in her statements.
“I find that outrageous,” Speier said of the DHS practice of analyzing the authors of online postings during January 16’s 90-minute Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence hearing.
Speier said that the DHS should correct the $11 million contract with General Dynamics in order “to prevent that type of information from being collected.”
During the hearing, the DHS chief privacy officer Mary Ellen Callahan claimed in response to Speier’s statements that, “We are just focusing on the event, the situation that is going on, and not worrying about the individual.”
Yet Callahan blatantly contradicted herself in saying that they do analyze who the author of a particular online posting “when it lends credibility to the report or facilities coordination with federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and foreign governments or international law enforcement partners.”
They claim that the category of individuals who have personally identifiable information collected on them is narrow, but when one actually examines it, it becomes quite obvious that it could include a great deal of people around the world.
They include individuals (American and foreign) in situations involving potential life or death (which is up to the DHS to determine, of course), Senior U.S. and foreign government officials who make public statements or provide public updates, U.S. and foreign government spokespersons who make public statements or provide public updates, U.S. and foreign private sector officials and spokespersons who make public statements or provide public updates, Names of anchors, newscasters, or on-scene reporters who are known or identified as reporters in their posts or articles, or who use traditional and/or social media in real time to provide their audience situational awareness and information, Current and former public officials who are victims of incidents or activities related to homeland security, and terrorists, drug cartel leaders or other persons known to have been involved in major crimes of homeland security interest.
Like most things when it comes to government, this language can be exploited in order to create a great deal of wiggle room while still not exceeding the boundaries.
Even more importantly, the only agency holding the DHS accountable for this activity is the DHS itself, so if they breach these conditions it is likely the case that no one outside the agency would even know about it.
Speier fought back against Callahan’s statements in saying, “I’m suggesting to you that it is irrelevant and you don’t need it and you should suspend that part of the contract.”
Callahan then nonsensically claimed, “We don’t collect information on individuals. We don’t monitor them in regards to First Amendment activity.”
The way that so many of these so-called officials operate makes me think that they genuinely believe that most Americans are downright imbecilic.
It’s either that or they’re so confident that no one actually holds them to account or pays attention that they believe they can get away with just about anything.
One would have to possess an attention span of thirty seconds in order to logically reconcile all of Callahan’s statements.
Ginger McCall, an attorney for EPIC, said that they want the DHS to actually close the program, although it appears that Speier might not be quite as ambitious.
Indeed, EPIC maintains the position that, “The agency has demonstrated no legal basis for its social network and media monitoring program, which threatens free speech and expression rights.”
They point out, “Law enforcement agency monitoring of online criticism and dissent chills legitimate criticism of the government, and implicates the First Amendment. Freedom of Speech and Expression are at the core of civil liberties and have been strongly protected by the Constitution and US courts.”
Unfortunately, all of our most essential civil liberties are actively under attack – even the right to due process – and being concerned about this has actually become an indication of possible terrorist activity according to our government.
Ginger McCall went on to say that EPIC has “asked for the program to be suspended.” She added that they want the DHS to “suspend the collection of public reaction and reports to policy proposals that reflect adversely on DHS or the government.”
These only seem like reasonable requests in what is supposed to be the freest country in the world.
Not a single other person sitting on the 12-member committee came to Speier’s side in demanding that the rights of Americans be protected, indeed the closest was likely when Representative Patrick Meehan, a Republican from Pennsylvania and chairman of the subcommittee, said that the program had a “chilling effect” which might lead to erosion of “an expectation [of a] right [to] privacy.”
When the DHS director of office operations Richard Chavez was asked why the DHS even needed General Dynamics to monitor the internet instead of just doing it with their own staff, Chavez said that General Dynamics has “skilled technicians in surfing the web.”
The fact that only one person is standing up against this egregious Big Brother activity is nothing short of disturbing. If we were living in an overtly totalitarian regime like, say, Soviet Russia, I would only expect to see programs like this in action.
For some reason I thought I lived in the United States where we have a right to free speech and a reasonable expectation of privacy but apparently we have neither a right to keep our digital lives free of government monitoring nor a right to keep anything away from Big Brother’s prying eyes, especially if said material represents “dissent” in any way.
Hopefully more of our so-called representatives will start standing up for the most essential rights of the American people, or else the DHS will continue on with programs like these at the breakneck speed they have been operating at for the past decade.
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