Monday, February 27, 2012

Social Media Tracking. How the U.S. Government is Spying on You.

We've probably all heard the stories. Don't say certain words on the phone when talking to someone, because the  Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will show up at your door uninvited. Well its not likely those rumors are actually true, though not many would actually test such a thing. It's a little like standing in the mirror and saying "Bloody Mary" three times, everyone gets to the second one, but stops before the third. Why take a chance, you know? Well when it comes to FBI wiretapping, with a warrant, either issued as part of an open criminal investigation, or a FISA warrant requiring you meet certain guidelines of being involved in espionage, this kind of story seems silly. In Katz vs. United States, 1967, the United States Supreme Court ruled regardless of the location, a conversation is protected from unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment if it is made with a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. So unless you fall under the two categories I've already specified, you can expect your conversations on the telephone to be private.

But what about the Internet? It's been a long standing tradition that you DO NOT have any such expectation of privacy when connected to the Internet, after all your ISP sits in between you and the Internet, so you would expect that they could be spying anytime. We all accept that our ISPs are probably spying on us, though not like we think. They already have the most useful information about us, Name, Address, Phone Number, Credit Card, Bank Information, and Social Security Number. They already have enough information to find out anything about you, and you gave it to them willingly, a sacrifice for a connection to the Web. Though they probably log all sorts of information, its only likely tied to an IP address, which if needed can be later converted to a name.

Not many people expect the Government to be tracking them, after all according to statistics there are over 245,000,000 people using the Internet in the United States. That is a lot of people to watch, so most of us expect that the government only tracks people who are under criminal investigation. In January it was revealed that the FBI was looking for programmers who could write Facebook and Twitter monitoring software. People concerned with privacy immediately sounded alarms. However, this isn't the first time this has happened.

In February 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the agency planned to implement a program that would monitor media content, including social media data. The proposed initiatives would gather data from "online forums, blogs, public websites, and message boards" and disseminate information to "federal, state, local, and foreign government and private sector partners." EPIC immediately filed a freedom of information act (FOIA) lawsuit against the DHS. The House Committee on Homeland Security's subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence recently held a hearing on the matter of what was revealed in this lawsuit. The program is called "Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative System of Records" and it collects information available on social media, shares it with other government agencies (including those in other countries) and private companies, and retains it for five years. 

It was revealed a company called General Dynamics was contracted by the government to spy on individuals, though they were not invited to the hearing themselves, Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan of the DHS was invited. Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Meehan grilled Callahan for sometime on the subject of the government spying methods. He wanted to know how the government was protecting the information being collected, and how he could be assured the government wasn't using the information to target individuals who believed they were part of a kind of quasi private community, often found on message boards and online forums. Callahan revealed, that the information was being used to identify public dissent of the government. Representative Meehan then asked "What can we do to assure that the activities of monitoring are not going to create some kind of chilling effect on individuals willingness and readiness not only to comment, but frankly, to make comments which may be critical of the government." To that, Callahan had no real answer. "To be very clear, it is the what, not the who that is being identified and that we are concerned with…we are just focusing on the event, the situation, and not worried about the individual." Of course looking at the agency's own documents, it appears that was a lie. The document which was submitted, says:

"Names of anchors, news casters, or on-scene reporters who are known or identified as reporters in their post or article who use traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed"

Callahan reveals that the use of keywords and software is being used to capture the information. She was then asked about the Chain of Command, of who is in charge? Callahan skirted the question by repeating the previous statement. The contempt on the part of the DHS was clear. She ended by saying she would get back to them with better answers for their questions.

So its pretty clear the government is using data-mining techniques to gain information about individuals through the use of keywords on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+, but also on message boards and websites where you may have logged in as a security measure to protect privacy. Well consider this, its pretty clear the government has at their disposal methods that allow them the ability to spy on anything you type anywhere on the Internet, this by itself has a chilling effect on privacy. After all, you expect certain things to be private like email, even though they are truly not. The White House just proposed a bill that would help individuals secure their privacy online, which kind of gave me a chuckle since the DHS answers to the President of the United States. So its with full knowledge that at the same time President Obama talks about protecting people's privacy he is fully aware the government is violating it.

One thing that seemed pretty unbalanced is the line where the DHS states that the information is to be shared with government agencies as well as private companies. Hmm, who could that be? Well I don't think the government is spying on people so it can sell the information to companies to increase ad revenue. It's in my opinion pretty clear that this is a way for the government to give the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) the information they need to find pirates without needing warrants.

When was it that our government started the long con? Was it under George Bush? Bill Clinton? or maybe it was long ago, even before the Internet was created. I don't know, I don't think we will ever really know that answer. The truth is our government was founded on principles that simply do not exist today. Men of moral character who truly cared for their nation fought to secure it, and give to its inhabitants freedom from tyranny. Looking at our government today, its pretty clear that moral character plays no part in any of our representatives minds. The moral principles that may be a reason to get into public office, soon disappear when faced with the reality of opportunity. An opportunity of greed can corrupt even those who consider themselves of the highest moral character.

Each day we move ever so closer to being that Police state, except it won't be a typical police state, because this one will be run by a corporation. And just imagine that day when you need help and you call 911 only to be put on hold, listening to music and interrupted by a voice that tells you, "Your call is important to us, please stay on the line and a representative will be with you shortly."

"Corruption, the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty." - Edward Gibbon

I wanted to include a list of the keywords that your government is using to red flag you online, but I thought if I just post every single keyword in my blog the FBI might show up at my door, so instead I created a little video that you should watch. Pay attention to some of the words they look for, it will amaze you and scare you at the same time. A little background about these keywords, the DHS breaks them into categories in their documents, so I had to type everything out in individual frames, all 350 keywords they look for. You will see them broken down by the categories they break them down into. I recommend you watch this in fullscreen mode so you can see the words as they might be small if you watch it in the box provided. You can do this by clicking the tiny box at the bottom of the video on the right-hand side. Hovering over it, you will see it say Full screen.

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