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Privacy Advocates Sue DHS for Big Bro Fake ‘Friends’ Monitoring Social Media

Dec 22, 20116 mins
Data and Information SecurityData CenterEnterprise Applications

Privacy advocates are suing DHS for 'covert' social networking surveillance on Facebook and Twitter. EPIC's FOIA lawsuit is a result of Homeland Security refusing to turn over details about Big Brother setting up fake accounts to 'friend' you and better monitor your social media activities.

Yes, Virginia, Big Brother is watching you in social media and storing those “naughty” tweets, posts and comments. After those hot keyword terms put you on the naughty list, unlike Santa’s list, it’s not a redo in a year . . . that info will be stored for five years. The EFF previously warned Big Brother wants to be your online buddy on social networking sites. Then the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking Homeland Security for more details about the agency’s plans to setup fake profiles and monitor social media users; but when no documents were produced, EPIC is now suing DHS over ‘covert surveillance on Facebook and Twitter.’

Hackers belonging to Anonymous kindly shared with the public such “chumming and baiting” tactics as were disclosed in Aaron Barr’s leaked emails.Those sock puppet accounts will try to befriend you, monitor for specific NOC terms, and then collect your PII (personally identifiable information) which will be stored for five years. Many users have a nasty habit of over-sharing on social media even though all that personal or sensitive information is potential fodder for social engineers. EPIC’s lawsuit [PDF] against DHS states, “Social media users have no reason to believe that the Department of Homeland Security is tracking their every post.” The DHS program plans to share this PII by “email and telephone” with “federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, foreign, or international government partners.”

EPIC wrote, “DHS has stated that it will routinely monitor the public postings of users on Twitter and Facebook. The agency plans to create fictitious user accounts and scan posts of users for key terms. User data will be stored for five years and shared with other government agencies. The legal authority for the DHS program remains unclear.”

A PR spokesperson from the Pentagon politely objected to the suggestion that ethics disappear behind closed doors, dirty deeds done in the dark when dirty weapons like sock puppet propaganda might be deployed against the American people who are supposed to be free to express themselves. Such armies of fake social media “friends” promoting propaganda was allegedly not being used against We the American People. But the devil is in the details of DHS monitoring keywords and social media when Big Bro’s sock puppet accounts want to be your buddy on social networking sites.

EPIC’s FOIA lawsuit filed against Homeland Security [PDF] pushes DHS to disclose the “details of the agency’s social network monitoring program.” The lawsuit states:

As set out in the  Federal Register and Privacy Impact Assessments, the DHS’s social media monitoring initiative would allow the agency to “establish [fictitious] usernames and passwords,” to create covert social media profiles to spy on other users, deploy search tools, and record the online activity of particular users, based on the presence of such search terms as “illegal immigrants,” “drill,” “infection,” “strain,” “outbreak,” “virus,” “recovery,” “deaths,” collapse,” “human to animal,” and “Trojan.”

When we previously looked DHS monitoring keywords in social networking sites, the article listed many more keyword terms that EPIC listed. In fact, the National Operations Center (NOC) terms included a list of 395 “hot keywords” that are being monitored as well as a list of websites NOC scrutinizes.

EPIC is not the only privacy group riled at Homeland Security. “DHS discloses privacy protection hides spying,” reported Cryptome. Meanwhile, “to enhance general cybersecurity – including corporate networks, home users, and everyone in between – DHS is expanding on their previous idea of an interlinked cyber ecosystem,” [PDFsaid the Atlantic Council in regard to the new DHS Blueprint for a Secure Cyber Future [PDF].

Homeland Security has proposed a new cybersecurity bill called, ‘Promoting and Enhancing Cybersecurity and Information Sharing Effectiveness’ (PrECISE Act) [PDF] that “would establish a quasi-governmental entity to oversee information-sharing with the private sector,” reported The Hill. This cybersecurity legislation would create “the National Information Sharing Organization (NISO), a semi-government entity, “would be staged as a clearinghouse for exchanging relevant information regarding cyber threats and vulnerabilities.”

Yet the New American noted, “Many civil liberties groups have expressed concern over cybersecurity legislation such as the PrECISE Act, as these policies could lead to severe privacy rights’ violations. Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said in congressional testimony, “Approaches to cybersecurity that would eliminate pseudonymous and anonymous speech online would put privacy at risk, chill free expression and erode the Internet’s essential openness. As the founders of our country recognized, anonymity and pseudonymity play essential roles in allowing political views to be aired.”

But DHS is not the only agency caught in the cross-hairs of discontent geeks, security freaks and privacy advocates during this less-than-holly-jolly season of rebellion and discord. Gizmodo published a list of “every single company supporting #SOPA, the awful Internet censorship law,” and how to contact them. Further planting seeds of dissent, Anonymous responded to SOPA with OpBlackOut and plans to mass deface the web before SOPA kills the Internet.

While pointing out the fed’s ridiculous lists and ‘you might be a domestic terrorist if’ scenarios, the Intellhub mentioned, “The DHS has also launched their citizen spy program for hotels and has sent them hotel protection guidelines which lists suspicious activities like persons carrying observation equipment or standing around in the same area.” Yes, you potential terrorists, your “suspicious” actions may be reported for “texting privately in a public place. According to this DHS commercial for their citizen spy program, if you’re texting while sitting in a public park, but trying to keep it concealed from people who pass by, you should be reported for suspicious terrorist activity.”

“A government afraid of its citizens is a Democracy. Citizens afraid of government is tyranny!” Thomas Jefferson said. That’s true dat. So is “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people,” as said by Alan Moore, V for Vendetta, . . . but keep in mind that Homeland is making a list and checking it twice, storing it a long time to recall who’s naughty or nice.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.