I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I see the problem with the Department of Homeland Security and other government organizations monitoring social media for information about ongoing and potential threats. There is a call right now in Congress for the practice to stop:
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California) said Thursday she wants the Department of Homeland Security to cease its social-media and news-monitoring operation.
Speaking at a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing, the California lawmaker said she was “outraged” that the agency has hired a contractor to review a variety of social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, and that General Dynamics is being tasked with reviewing news sources, blogs and their bylines for all types of articles, including those containing anti-American sentiment and reaction to policy proposals.
People need to accept that anything they do in the world of social media “can and will be used against them.” Restricting police and intelligence organizations from monitoring these services could lead to a rediculous situation where the public knows more about an emergency than the FBI does, and the FBI is restricted by statute from taking steps to find out more!
Rep. Speier argues that the monitoring might have a “chilling” effect on online content, to which part of me wants to say “Good, a lot of internet commentators should probably be ‘chilled.'” If you post something online in a “public” space like Facebook, Twitter, a public-facing blog or internet forum, you should fully expect that anyone and everyone can read it. I have the right to get on a street corner and shout anything I want, but I shouldn’t expect the cops to just cover their ears and pretend not to listen. As long as the program has Congressional oversight and any enforcement actions taken as a RESULT of the monitoring remain content-neutral and 1st Amendment friendly, I’m not sure I see a problem.
The article goes on to discuss a couple details of the program. DHS apparently monitors response to policy propsals, which some have criticized – I’m not sure I understand the problem with an agency of the government actively trying to determine how people are responding to their actions. Don’t we want government organizations to be responsive? Don’t we want unpopular policies to be quickly amended or rescinded?
The other issue addressed was whether or not the job should be done by a contractor or government employees – I’m agnostic on the issue, that’s one for the bean counters to decide.