DHS, FBI Monitor Your Online Activities
May 29, 2012 Leave a comment
The Department of Homeland Security has released a list of keywords that will grab their attention on Facebook and other websites. The list includes the words pork, cloud, toxic, tornado as well as an extensive list of government agencies, foreign countries, diseases and weather words. DHS alleges that they’re only targeting actual threats. But in order to determine what is an actual threat, they have to sift through millions of law abiding citizens posts online. Next time you mention the pork tenderloin you’re having for dinner or the tornado watch in your town or the next time you mention a government agency online, know that DHS is likely watching or at least skimming your post to determine whether you’re a threat.
Meanwhile the FBI is secretly creating a unit that seeks to make it easier for the government to eavesdrop on wireless and internet communications. The FBI wants internet providers to make it easier for them to tap into private email accounts. They also want to be able to decode and thus eavesdrop on conversations made via Skype and other similar sites.
These two issues go hand in hand. It is illegal for the government to wiretap without a warrant. If it isn’t already, it should be illegal for the government to tap into private email accounts and private internet communications such as instant messages and Skype. It’s one thing for the FBI to monitor foreign activities, particularly the activities of suspected foreign terrorists. The same can be said for DHS. But the minute the monitoring becomes of American citizens, the government has a constitutional problem. They are not free to monitor us without a warrant.
You might say that some internet activities are public and that’s certainly true. We may debate whether or not tax money should be wasted monitoring blogs such as this one. But at least this is a public activity. Facebook isn’t per se a public activity. Sure there are some public aspects to it but it’s a closed universe with limits on who can see content. We can all agree that there are private internet communications made via email, instant messaging and video conferencing where there is a clear expectation of privacy. Yet the actions of DHS and FBI are trying to blur all internet communications.
Government shouldn’t be monitoring my Facebook posts about pork fat, Pakistan, the flu or my commentary on various government agencies. Even though these are public communications made in a semi-public setting, there is an expectation of privacy. In short, there’s an expectation that the government isn’t paying attention to my commentary. You likely also have that expectation, no matter what you’re talking about. When government monitors what people say, it has a chilling effect on free speech. There is a fear that the state is watching and may seek to prosecute based on ones beliefs or how they choose to communicate. That’s a serious problem and DHS is certainly attempting to chill free speech by monitoring nearly every communication made about any serious international or health issue.
It’s one thing for DHS and FBI to monitor the activities of suspected foreign terrorists, even unreasonably suspected foreign terrorists. But to monitor American citizens, to make it so easy to obtain access to emails and instant messages, that’s beyond the limits of the Constitution. DHS and FBI need warrants to look at this information and unless there is a minimally reasonable belief someone is committing a crime, government has no business paying attention to your trip to Mexico, my love affair with all things pork or my pastor’s bout with the flu. Government simply should not have this power over our lives and it’s a complete cop out to claim it’s all to protect us from terrorism. At some point freedom is more important than protection from barbarian terrorists. We’ve reached that point when DHS is following your Facebook and Twitter posts and the FBI is trying to hack everyone’s email.