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DHS social media monitoring: Watched Facebook, emailed police, arrested photographer

Apr 23, 20125 mins
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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?

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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.