The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been operating a “Social Networking/Media Capability” program to monitor the top blogs, forums and social networks online for at least the past 18-24 months. Among the sites under surveillance? Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Drudge Report, Huffington Post, YouTube, and more.
A DHS official said that under the program’s rules, the department would not keep permanent copies of the internet traffic it monitors. However, the document outlining the monitoring program does say that the operations center “will retain information for no more than five years” under the National Operations Center’s Media Monitoring Initiative.
Not much detail has been provided as to why they would need to monitor and collect personal information except for saying that it was intended purely to enable command center officials to keep in touch with various Internet-era media so that they were aware of major, developing events to which the Department or its agencies might have to respond.
The document says that all the websites which the command center will be monitoring were “publicly available and… all use of data published via social media sites was solely to provide more accurate situational awareness, a more complete common operating pictures, and more timely information for decision makers…”
This story is disturbing because once a federal program is initiated, it is a nightmare to eliminate. While they may give us reasons for monitoring these sites, there is always a good chance that the reasons can expand in the future. That will be the story not reported…until it is too late.