The FBI today said that its proposed plans to monitor social media sites as part of a broader strategy to improve real-time situation awareness will be fully vetted by the agency's Privacy and Civil Liberties Unit.
The unit will review the legal implications of the monitoring application and ensure that it meets all privacy and civil rights obligations before it is implemented, the agency said in a statement emailed to Computerworld "Although the FBI has always adapted to meet changes in technology, the rule of law, civil liberties, and civil rights, will remain our guiding principles," the agency said.
The FBI was responding to questions about its plans to use technology to quickly gather and analyze data posted on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and on blogs using simple keyword searches and phrases.
In a Request For Information (RFI) last month, the FBI said that data posted on such sites would let it more quickly detect specific and credible threats, locate those organizing and taking part in dangerous gatherings and predict upcoming events.
It noted that social media networks have been trumping police, firefighters and news media when it comes to communicating news of developing incidents and protests. "Social media is rivaling 911 services in crisis response and reporting," the RFI noted.
Similar monitoring by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has already stoked considerable privacy concerns. Groups such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have called for more transparency and oversight of such monitoring activities.
EPIC last month warned that some of DHS' monitoring activities appeared to have little to do with public safety; it has expressed similar concerns over the FBI's plans.
Such concerns have prompted the House Committee on Homeland Security to schedule a hearing Thursday to examine the privacy implications of DHS' social media monitoring activities.
In its statement, the FBI said that information gathered from social media networks will support the activities of its Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC). "In accordance with its core mission, SIOC has a responsibility to enhance its techniques for collecting and disseminating real-time publicly available open source information to improve the FBI's overall situational awareness and support of mission requirements," the FBI said.
Social media monitoring will help the agency stay on top of breaking events, crisis activity or natural disasters that have already occurred or are still in progress, the FBI said. The effort will not focus on specific persons or protected groups, but on words that relate to specific events, crisis scenarios and criminal or terrorist activities.
Examples of the words that the FBI will use in its social media searches will include 'lockdown,' 'bomb,' 'suspicious package,' 'white powder,' 'active shoot' and 'school lock down.'
The federal government already uses publicly available open source information to identify immediate or emerging threats to national security. "The type of social media application being researched by the FBI, to view publicly available information, is no different than applications used by other government agencies."
Re: FBI says social media monitoring won't infringe privacy rights..."Yeah right!"
April 20 2012, 11:42 AM
Well good to know they will just go after terrorists...those who publicly disagree with government policy...and people they just don't like.
FBI: Our social media monitoring is 'targeted'
April 19, 2012 | By Molly Bernhart Walker
Even though the FBI is seeking technology to help it sift through raw social media and uncover nuggets of intelligence, one FBI official says social media data mining is a precarious proposition.
"When you collect that data in Washington, if you collect a bunch of data and you don't look at it and something happens, they now have the burden of responsibility, of 'Why did you do that?'" said FBI Special Agent Ganpat "Gunner" Wagh April 18 at an AFCEA Bethesda event in Bethesda, Md.
"If you don't collect, you're not responsible for analyzing it. If you collect, you better have the tools to go analyze it," he said. "You don't want to be the law enforcement or intelligence agency that missed something but you had the data."
Smart mobile devices are clearly on their way to pervasiveness in federal agencies. The notion that the government can adopt consumer technology on its own terms - that individual employees can even bring their own devices - is gaining once unthinkable currency.
Wagh said his unit doesn't scrape the internet or social media sites. They do, however, conduct targeted dives into social media. He said he's constantly checking in on what he can and can't do and when he can and can't do it during an investigation.
"It's a tricky landscape, there's no doubt about it," said Wagh. "I talk to my attorney almost daily to make sure that I'm in the scope of the authority."
"I say, 'This is what I'm thinking of doing, here is my predicated investigation, here's how I opened the investigation and I want to get to this point, I want to be here. What authorities do I need to do to take that next step?'" said Wagh.
The reason it's difficult to set standard policies around using social media in investigations is because cases vary, the opinions of Congress and the attorneys general could change, and "it changes from site to site," said Wagh.
"Facebook sends out an update that resets your privacy settings; it's changing all the time," said Wagh.
Re: FBI says social media monitoring won't infringe privacy rights..."Yeah right!"
April 25 2012, 5:43 PM
"Examples of the words that the FBI will use in its social media searches will include 'lockdown,' 'bomb,' 'suspicious package,' 'white powder,' 'active shoot' and 'school lock down.' " ...and the list apparently also includes, "photographer", "legal protest" and "exercising of constitutional rights"...I suppose "criticizing DHS policy" and "reporting the truth" are soon to be added to the list...a sad day for America.
DHS social media monitoring: Watched Facebook, emailed police, arrested photographer
By Ms. Smith on Mon, 04/23/12 - 2:51pm.
Maybe Homeland Security hasn't heard of the Constitution or that the ACLU said 'you have every right to photograph that cop.' Do you recall DHS saying that social media monitoring was for situational purposes only? Homeland Security monitored photographer Carlos Miller's Facebook page which said he planned to photo-document Occupy Miami. Then DHS sent an email with his photo to alert police officers so Miller could be singled out and arrested. Photography is a constitutionally protected First Amendment right . . . but then again so is free speech which is so heavily monitored via social media.
Homeland Security has tried to reassure citizens about how it only uses social media for situational awareness. Yet in light of a photographer's disturbing story, it seems to indicate the reality of how DHS is watching and tracking. After Florida photographer Carlos Miller mentioned on Facebook his intentions to attend and photo document the Occupy Miami protests, the Miami-Dade Police Homeland Security Bureau sent a "Multimedia Information/Situational Awareness" email with Miller's photo to alert police officers, so Miller could be singled out and arrested.
We've looked numerous times how government agencies are monitoring social media. The devil is in the details when it comes to government spying on citizens via social networks. With the DOJ, DHS and FBI data hoarding and data-mining social media as if on steroids, you never know when that comment might be considered dissent and come back to bite you. On Pixiq, photographer Carlos Miller tells his story of how Homeland Security was monitoring his Facebook page hours before he was arrested.
Miller, who has his Facebook profile set to "public," said he planned to attend and photograph the protests at Occupy Miami. After his arrest in January and a FOIA request, which resulted in "more than 200 emails," Miller asks a very valid question: Why did the Homeland Security Bureau feel "the need to advise officers of my presence when there were going to be countless other reporters and activists also documenting the eviction with cameras?"
Miller wrote that Robert Chandler, who runs Raw Dash Cam, requested "all emails sent or received by any and all email accounts used by Major Nancy Perez from January 30, 2012 to March 14, 2012 that contain any of the following keywords - 'Carlos Miller,' 'Photographer,' 'PINAC' and 'occupy'." The public records request resulted in 214 emails.
Homeland Security emailed Miller's photo to local police as well the statement, "Carlos Miller is a Miami multimedia journalist who has been arrested twice for taking pictures of law enforcement. He has publicly posted on social networks that he will be taking pictures today in order to document the eviction."
Below is the "raw and uninterrupted" footage of Miller's arrest.
"I find it very troubling that a unit formed to deal with terrorist activities found it necessary to send out an email advising other departments and law enforcement officers that a journalist would be covering a newsworthy matter of public concern," Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, wrote to Miami-Dade Police Director James Loftus.
According to Miller, Osterreicher's letter also advised the Miami police:
It would be best if they followed their own directives that photography is a First Amendment protected activity and 'should not be reported absent articulable facts and circumstances that support the suspicion that the behavior observed is not innocent . . . but rather reasonably indicative of criminal activity associated with terrorism or other crimes.'
"Unfortunately it appears that by their very actions they continue sustain the misguided belief that by its very nature photography is a crime. At best - behavior that chills free speech is extremely unprofessional - at worst it is criminal."
When the FBI released 25 more ridiculous You Might Be a Terrorist If lists, the agency included how "dangerous" photographers are even though the ACLU says you have every right to photograph that cop. Photography may not be a crime, and photographers are not terrorists, but it's still laid out to the general public to look like using a camera makes you potentially engaged in terrorist activities. After this revelation of how DHS is monitoring social media, in this case a photographer's Facebook page, clearly photographers are still targeted by law enforcement.
Homeland Security claimed all of the social media monitoring conducted on American citizens by the agency is for "situational awareness" purposes only. Miller's arrest and the public records request clearly show that DHS is using social media monitoring "situational awareness" to target First Amendment rights.
So what are your choices? Keep silent in social media due to the very real possibility that what you say on social networks will be held against you? Guilty until proven innocent? Of course not; this is still America and the Constitution has not yet been officially been turned to toast. But who is going to protect Americans, and photographers, from becoming targets as if we are all potential terrorists?
...it certainly looks to me like the terrorists did indeed win the "War on Terror" and managed to destroy our freedoms.
Re: FBI says social media monitoring won't infringe privacy rights..."Yeah right!"
May 19 2012, 1:03 PM
Well it seems if the DoJ is siding against what seems to be a new interpretation of the Constitution by local law enforcement agencies to forbid to the photographing of police officers in the execution of their duties...wonder if they will have the balls to do the same for FBI and DHS agents?
By Ms. Smith on Thu, 05/17/12 - 12:01pm.
DOJ smacks Baltimore police over constitutionally protected right to record cops
Great news for photographers or anyone with a smartphone, since it can record photos or videos. The Justice Department defended citizens by sending a letter that warned the Baltimore police department to set up constitutionally adequate 'record the police' policies that do not violate our First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Good news today as the Justice Department defended our constitutional rights by taking a firm stance on our First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights in regard to our right to record the police. The DOJ is not happy about the Baltimore Police Department's recently issued seven page orders on citizens' right to record officers, so the Department of Justice sent a letter that smacks BPD and warns the department to set up constitutionally adequate 'record the police' policies that do not violate our protected First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
In January, the DOJ's Civil Rights Division weighed in for the first time on the right to record the cops by sending a letter that counseled a judge to side with the plaintiff, a Howard County man suing Baltimore police for 'allegedly' deleting videos from his cell phone after he recorded an officer arresting a woman at the 2010 Preakness. Chris Sharp, the plaintiff, maintains the police even told him, "That's what you get for taping it." In that statement, the Justice Department "urged the Court to find that private individuals have a First Amendment right to record police officers in the public discharge of their duties, and that officers violate individuals' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they seize and destroy such recordings without a warrant or due process." Then in May, a coalition of nine civil and digital rights groups, including the EFF and ACLU, sent a letter [PDF] to Attorney General Eric Holder, urging the Justice Department to protect and defend our constitutional right to record police.
So now Jonathan Smith, chief of the special litigation section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, filed an 11-page letter [PDF] defending citizens' right to record the police. I encourage you to read the impressive DOJ letter as it will likely give you a warm fuzzy glow, at least temporarily, to see justice is not dead and our constitutional rights do still count.
Because recording police officers in the public discharge of their duties is protected by the First Amendment, policies should prohibit interference with recording of police activities except in narrowly circumscribed situations. More particularly, policies should instruct officers that, except under limited circumstances, officers must not search or seize a camera or recording device without a warrant. In addition, policies should prohibit more subtle actions that may nonetheless infringe upon individuals' First Amendment rights. Officers should be advised not to threaten, intimidate, or otherwise discourage an individual from recording police officer enforcement activities or intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices.
Even though the ACLU said you have every right to photograph that cop, please do read the Justice Department's letter [PDF]; it's very important if you are a photographer, videographer, or even own a cell phone capable of taking pictures or recording videos. You never know what you might see one day; it is your constitutional right to break out that smartphone and record away.
Furthermore "bystanders have an absolute right to record police activity" unless it interferes with police activity, jeopardizes the safety of an officer, suspect or others in the vicinity, violates the law, or incites others to violate the law. Officers "may not prohibit a person's ability to observe, photograph, and/or make a video recording of police activity that occurs 'in the public domain'," Smith advised, but the BPD policy needs to "clarify that the right to record public officials is not limited to streets and sidewalks - it includes areas where individuals have a legal right to be present, including an individual's home or business, and common areas of public and private facilities and buildings."
The Justice Department addressed the BPD's weak policy about describing precisely what limited circumstances would allow the police to seize recordings and recording devices. "The warrantless seizure of material protected by the First Amendment 'calls for a higher hurdle in the evaluation of reasonableness' under the Fourth Amendment," Smith wrote. The policy should not include language that violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, meaning the consent to search or seize must not explicitly or implicitly be coerced by implied threats. "Warrantless seizures are only permitted if an officer has probable cause to believe that the property "holds contraband or evidence of a crime" and "the exigencies of the circumstances demand it or some other recognized exception to the warrant requirement is present."
Photojournalist Carlos Miller, who has been arrested three times for recording the police and is the same photographer who DHS monitored via Facebook before arresting him [see previous post], pointed out this portion of the DOJ letter: "Police departments should not place a higher burden on individuals to exercise their right to record police activity than they place on members of the press." And being the first to break the story, Miller really liked this:
This principal is particularly important in the current age where widespread access to recording devices and online media have provided private individuals with the capacity to gather and disseminate newsworthy information with an ease that rivals that of the traditional news media. See Glik, 655 F.3d at 84 ("[M]any of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper.").
Meanwhile Police One reported that the Seattle Police Department is objecting to DOJ proposed reforms, calling them "wildly unrealistic and expensive." The Justice Department had threated to sue SPD after a civil rights investigation found the police in Seattle "regularly used illegal force, often for minor offenses." The "DOJ report found that one out of every five times an officer used force, it was used unconstitutionally" and issued a "100-page settlement proposal." For the last warm fuzzy today, "Last week, the DOJ sued tough-talking Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Ariz., over allegations that his department racially profiled Latinos."