Thursday, January 19, 2012

Homeland Security Given Permission to Monitor (a.k.a. spy on) American Journalists

Freedom of the Press?  And how do you define "the Press"?  Are bloggers and social media mavens part of the Press?  And what if the government starts collecting information on those it deems are "the Press"?

Freedom of the Press is a nice principle that isn't really encoded in any laws.  It's not like Freedom of Speech that's so important it was the first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Freedom of the Press should mean that those of us who self-identify as Press can go about our business without government interference.  There are plenty of examples from around the world, both modern and in the past, of governments afraid of the stories reported by journalists, and they used all sorts of legal leverage against journalists, and in some cases unfairly imprisoning for supposed anti-government sentiments or whatnot, not to mention all the journalists killed under mysterious circumstances.  Freedom of the press is meant to counter that tendency of governments and other powerful people to try to stop certain stories from being published.

RT News is somewhat disingenuously reporting on an effort by the U.S. Homeland Security Department to gather publicly visible information about 'news anchors, journalists, reporters or anyone who may use “traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.”'

This is a really broad definition of people because those who keep an audience "situationally aware and informed" includes anybody who routinely posts links to articles on social media networks.  Posting links to those networks is a highly common activity and is undertaken by anybody seriously interested in building an audience.

The project scours the social networks for information, but the DHS claims it is not collecting "Personally Identifiable Information" (PII) .. "While this Initiative is not designed to actively collect Personally Identifiable Information (PII), OPS is conducting this update to the Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) because this initiative may now collect and disseminate PII for certain narrowly tailored categories."  While they aren't collecting PII they can collect it if necessary such as:  "For example, in the event of an in extremis situation involving potential life and death, OPS will share certain PII with the responding authority in order for them to take the necessary actions to save a life, such as name and location of a person calling for help buried under rubble, or hiding in a hotel room when the hotel is under attack by terrorists."

The authority cited is Section 515 of the Homeland Security Act (6 U.S.C. § 321d(b)(1)

Where the RT News report becomes disingenuous is when they say this:-  "The department says that they will only scour publically-made info available while retaining data, but it doesn’t help but raise suspicion as to why the government is going out of their way to spend time, money and resources on watching over those that helped bring news to the masses."

In other words, RT News is demonstrating a belief that this is somehow new behavior on the part of the U.S. Government.  In truth the Government has been working on what they call "open source intelligence" for years.  Namely, collecting publicly available information for intelligence gathering purposes.  The social media networks make this easy because many of us actively want to be found on those networks which is great if we want to build an audience, but that audience may include Big Brother government agents snooping on our every tweet.

I've written about this plenty of times before:- 
The thing about publicly available information is that it's publicly available.  Complaining about it being collected is a bit silly, really.

However it is troublesome.  For a reason why ponder a factoid about the Jewish Holocaust.  The Nazi government contracted with the IBM subsidiary in Germany to develop machines to assist with gathering and tracking information about the ethnicity of the population.  This was the 1930's and the technology were simple punch cards and automated machines for processing the punch cards, but there's no way in heck you could call these machines "Computers" because those didn't start to come into existence until the 1950's.  In any case no matter how rudimentary the machines IBM could supply at that time, it did enable the German government to efficiently find Jewish people to send to the Concentration camps.

Fast forward to the marvelous computers we have today ..

Some supporting documents:-

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