DHS Uses Social Media to Monitor Backdoor Amnesty Blowback

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Monday, February 27, 2012
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National Issues
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A recently released 2011 reference guide for analysts working for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Media Monitoring Capability program reveals its mission includes keeping an eye on those who disagree with the Administration’s backdoor amnesty initiatives. (NY Times, Feb. 22, 2012) According to the guide, DHS is directing its analysts to identify and monitor “media reports that reflect adversely on DHS,” and track reports on the Administration’s “policy changes” in immigration and the term “illegal immigration” in particular. (Id.; see also 2011 DHS Manual, pp. 5-6)

The 2011 guide raises questions about recent claims by DHS officials who portrayed the program as limited to gathering information that would help gain operational awareness about attacks, disasters or other emerging problems. In addition to the analyst guide, DHS documents released in 2009 also indicate the Department is monitoring more than terrorist activity. Those documents reveal that DHS’ Social Networking/Media Capability program placed emphasis on gauging “public reaction to major government proposals with homeland security implications.” (See EPIC webpage; see also DHS documents acquired by EPIC)

The negative reaction to DHS’ “big brother” tactics has been overwhelmingly bipartisan. On Feb. 16, the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing on DHS’ monitoring of social networking and the media. (See Subcommittee Website, Feb. 16, 2012) Chairman of the Subcommittee, Patrick Meehan (R-PA), said DHS’ collection of intelligence on media reports adversely reflecting the government crosses the line and pointed out the “chilling effect” such monitoring could have on freedom of speech. (Rep. Meehan Opening Statement, Feb. 16, 2012) Ranking Member Jackie Speier (D-CA) described DHS’ ability to “build files on bloggers” as “outrageous” and a “violation of the Privacy Act.” She also said, “This…should not be a political operation and capturing public reactions to major government proposals is not something [the government] should be doing.” (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Feb. 16, 2012)

At the same hearing, DHS Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan denied allegations that DHS is capturing public reactions. “[Such behavior] would not have met the privacy standards that are in the five publicly available privacy impact assessments we've done.” (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Feb. 16, 2012)

The DHS analyst guide continues a pattern of efforts by President Obama to suppress views contrary to his Administration’s, such as the White House’s “flag” program during the healthcare debate and his campaign’s AttackWatch.com.