Friday, August 19, 2022

Us Government Monitoring Social Media

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What Are The Risks

Government monitoring immigrants and naturalized citizens on social media

This type of government surveillance raises many privacy concerns. Rather than accepting its use by law enforcement as our inevitable future, we should consider the serious implications for our society.

Silencing discourse. It should give us great pause to hear that SMMS is being used to politically profile, track, and target innocent people who express political opinions online. People like Erious Johnson, director of civil rights at the Oregon Department of Justice, and who knows how many more.

A recent study revealed what really happens when we know we are being constantly watched voices are silenced. Professor Elizabeth Stoycheff of Wayne State University has shown that people who support surveillance and say they have nothing to hide are actually the most likely to avoid sharing unpopular opinions when they know government is watching. We lose the ability to discuss ideas openly when we fear we will be punished for them.

Even innocent people who know they are being watched are intimidated into self-censorship. Yet robust public conversations and debates about controversial and difficult topics make us stronger as a nation. That is exactly why our founders enshrined strong protections for a broad marketplace of ideas in the First Amendment.

Your Social Media Is Being Watched Right Now Says New Surveillance Report

    Getty

    The use of automated tools to enable mass surveillance of social media accounts is spiralling out of control. So says a new report from Freedom on the Net, which warns that nine in every 10 internet users are being actively monitored online. And where this might have been done by armies of analysts in the past, it is now automated. Advances in AI and pattern analytics have enabled billions of accounts to be watched in real time. The report highlights the darker parts of the internet worldChina, Russia, parts of the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia, but it also cites examples of monitoring in the U.S. and Europe, and the development of commercial tools with western government money that then end up in the hands of questionable regimes.

    The Cambridge Analytica scandal may have exposed the raw truth about data security and manipulation on social media, but the issue is rooted in the platformsthe potential for deriving intelligence from otherwise innocuous data. Many of the tools are new, leveraging AI and pattern analytics to map relationships between people through link analysis, to use natural language processing to assign meaning or attitude to social media posts, and to mine data for information about past, present, or future locations. And so are you really being watched? Probably.

    Freedom on the Net

    A Short History Of Social Media Monitoring

    There is reason to believe that DHS has been monitoring social media to conduct investigations and detect immigration fraud since at least 2008 and possibly earlier. Its hard to pin down, because the government has been fairly secretive about when it uses social media in investigations and what rules are placed on investigators.

    Law enforcement, however, has always been free to use social media as part of investigations of both threats and crimes.

    The 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, carried out by a U.S. citizen and his foreign-born wife, raised questions about why the couples social media accounts had not been checked when she was applying for a visa. Although there were initial reports that the wife had made public comments supporting violent jihad on Facebook, this turned out to be incorrect: Her comments were made as part of private messages and would not have been revealed in a standard social media check.

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    How Can This Kind Of Surveillance Be Harmful

    Among other issues, government monitoring and use of social media can result in wrongful allegations of criminal activity, chilling of peoples willingness to talk and connect openly online, invasions of privacy, and sometimes high-stakes misinterpretations of social media activity.

    While all Americans may be harmed by unrestricted social media monitoring, protestors and historically marginalized communities typically bear the brunt of suspicionless surveillance. Echoing wrongdoings from the civil rights era, there are many examples of the FBI and DHS using social media to surveil those speaking out against the government.

    Both agencies have monitored Black Lives Matter activists. DHS has focused social media surveillance on immigration activists. Middle Eastern and South Asian communities have often been particular targets of the governments discriminatory travel and immigration screening practices, including social media screening. The State Departments collection of social media handles on visa forms came out of President Trumps Muslim ban, and DHS officials barred a Palestinian student coming to study at Harvard from entering the country based on his friends social media posts.

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    There is little if any public evidence that such technology is more effective than less-invasive alternatives for ensuring national security and combating serious crimes. Social media activity such as original content, likes, or sharesparticularly speech that is rendered in slang or languages other than Englishis susceptible to misinterpretation and misclassification. Research has estimated the accuracy rates of natural-language processing tools at 70 to 80 percent. While they are often justified as a means to reduce human error, algorithmic tools can further entrench racial or religious discrimination due to reliance on inaccurate or biased data. The resulting false positives can add innocent people to government watch lists, often without their knowledge, leaving them with little recourse for remedying the mistake.

    At the very least, social media surveillance must come under greater oversight. The use of such programs must be transparent, including sustained dialogue between law enforcement and affected communities. Public civil rights assessments should be conducted, and authorities should be held accountable when tools are misused and offer remedies for any victims. Online surveillance technology should not be used to proactively monitor the planning and organization of peaceful protest activities or individuals involvement in nonviolent political groups. And governments should swiftly amend existing privacy legislation to address the proper use of this technology.

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    Library Records And Ebooks

    48 states in the US have laws that protect library records from snoopers, and two have legal directives that serve a similar purpose. To access a persons library records, a court order is usually necessary.

    Thats more protection than youll find on Amazon when buying an ebook. Amazon and other ebook sellers usually have privacy policies stating they also only hand over readers private information with a court order, but theres technically no law barring them from doing so. Furthermore, Amazon can keep much better track of what youre reading and how you read on its Kindle devices and companion apps. Amazon can not only see what you read, but what page youre on, when you read, highlighted passages, and any notes youve scribbled into the ereader.

    Only four states have laws about protecting e-reader data in libraries, so youre best checking out a physical book from your local library for maximum privacy.

    Mass Surveillance And Metadata

    In 2013, Edward Snowden shocked the world when he revealed a series of mass surveillance programs used to intercept communications of both Americans and non-Americans. The NSA and FBI argue that they do not record the contents of phone calls or emails without a court order and merely collected metadata about those calls.

    The NSA, where Snowden worked as a contractor, collected data on millions of peoples phone records from AT& T, Sprint, and Verizon. Phone call metadata includes:

    • Phone number of both parties making and receiving the call
    • How long the call lasted
    • When the call was made

    Snowden said the NSA secretly gained direct access to servers at Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, among other companies that participated in the PRISM program. Those companies denied the allegations outright, saying they only hand over information on a case-by-case basis with a court order, and not in bulk.

    However, The Guardian reported in 2013 that the Bush and Obama administrations collected email metadata on any communication between non-US citizens or communications in which at least one party is outside of the US, even if they are an American citizen. The email metadata does not include the contents of emails, which, like phone calls, would require a court order. Email metadata includes:

    • The email addresses of the sender and receiver
    • A timestamp of when the email was sent
    • An IP address used by people sending emails from inside the US
    • Location based on the IP address

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    Countries With The Most Government Social Media Surveillance

    1. Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the UAE, Vietnam, and Yemen = 2/21

    If we say social media users in the aforementioned countries are subject to the most invasive surveillance, none are perhaps too much of a surprise.

    With widespread surveillance technology in place and few, if any, safeguards surrounding social media practices, all of these countries seriously encroach on citizens privacy across these networks. This often leads to self-censorship and a search for safer alternatives .

    2. Russia and Thailand = 3/21

    Russia and Thailand are only slightly better when it comes to their surveillance practices. Thailand does have some provisions in place when it comes to what can be monitored and Russia has some safeguards for privacy on social media channelsbut, again, these are frequently violated and disregarded. This censorship and surveillance in Russia has only heightened in recent months, including blocking Facebook in its entirety and the enactment of a law that attempts to silence anyone spreading false information about the invasion of Ukraine.

    3. Turkey and Poland = 4/21

    Turkey has widespread and invasive surveillance but does have some provisions within its legislation that provide some protectionalbeit inadequate.

    4. Australia = 5/21

    Australia is perhaps the biggest surprise within the top five worst countries for social media surveillance.

    5. Hong Kong, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, and South Korea = 6/21

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    ACLU Sues CPD Demanding Information About Social Media Monitoring

    The officials didn’t describe what criteria or methods the analysts would use to parse the data. They said DHS officials have been consulting with social media companies, private companies and nonprofit groups that analyze open-source social media data.

    “Domestic violent extremism poses the most lethal, persistent terrorism-related threat to our homeland today,” said Sarah Peck, a DHS spokeswoman, adding that all DHS efforts against the threat “are carried out in close coordination with our privacy, civil rights and civil liberties experts and consistent with the law.”

    Law enforcement officers and intelligence analysts are legally entitled to examine without warrants what people say openly on Twitter, Facebook and other public social media forums, just as they can take in information from reading newspapers. But civil liberties groups generally oppose government monitoring of social media, arguing that it doesn’t produce much intelligence and risks chilling free speech.

    “Internal government reviews have repeatedly raised concerns about the usefulness of wide-ranging collection of social media information, but agencies keep barreling forward, wrongly assuming that its benefits must outweigh its costs,” said Hugh Handeyside, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington.

    “People say inflammatory stuff on social media, but as an empirical matter, that speech isn’t a valid or reliable predictor of violent conduct,” he said.

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    Boundless is not a law firm and is not a substitute for theadvice of an attorney. Boundless is not affiliatedwith or endorsed by United States Citizenship andImmigration Services or any other governmentagency.Blank immigration forms with written instructions, includingfor spousal visas, are available for free at theUSCIS website.Use of the Boundless website and its services aresubject to ourPrivacy Policy andTermsof Use. Attorney services are provided by independentattorneys and are subject to a separateAttorney Agreement.

    Outcry Over Us Postal Service Reportedly Tracking Social Media Posts

    Report obtained by Yahoo says USPS surveilling via covert program social media activity it describes as inflammatory

    The US Postal Service has reportedly been monitoring social media posts, with a focus on people planning protests.

    The surveillance procedure, known as the Internet Covert Operations Program , tracks social media activity that it describes as inflammatory and shares that information to government agencies, according to a government bulletin from 16 March obtained by Yahoo News. The program is part of the efforts of the United States Postal Inspection Service , the law enforcement arm of the USPS.

    The USPIS monitored social media accounts regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on 20 March, when the World Wide Rally for Freedom and Democracy was scheduled to take place, according to the bulletin.

    The information regarding the demonstrations against lockdown measures was distributed through Department of Homeland Security facilities. The agency collected information from Facebook, as well as other platforms used by rightwing extremist groups, such as Parler and Telegram.

    Icop analysts are currently monitoring these social media channels for any potential threats stemming from the scheduled protests and will disseminate intelligence updates as needed, reads the bulletin.

    Social media users have expressed concern over this practice. One user said: Youve got mail! Seriously, USPS is monitoring our social media?

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    The Global Market For Surveillance

    The market for social media surveillance has grown, giving intelligence and law enforcement agencies new tools for combing through massive amounts of information. At least 40 of the 65 countries covered by this report have instituted advanced social media monitoring programs. Moreover, their use by governments is accelerating: in 15 of these countries, it was only in the past year that such programs were either expanded or newly established. Justifying their efforts in the name of enhancing security, limiting disinformation, and ensuring public order, governments have effectively co-opted social media platforms. While these platforms typically present themselves as social connectors and community builders, state agencies in repressive countries see them as vast storehouses of speech and personal information that can be observed, collected, and analyzed to detect and suppress dissent.

    China is a leader in developing, employing, and exporting social media surveillance tools. The Chinese firm Semptian has touted its Aegis surveillance system as providing a full view to the virtual world with the capacity to store and analyze unlimited data. The company claims to be monitoring over 200 million individuals in Chinaa quarter of the countrys internet users. The company even markets a national firewall product, mimicking the so-called Great Firewall that controls internet traffic in China.

    Info Collected By Non

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    Some information is required for the US government to effectively operate and serve the public. This includes information thats used collect taxes, dole out welfare, deliver mail, draw boundaries for congressional and school districts, and assess social and economic trends and make policy decisions.

    While we say this information is routine, once its all combined, one could actually formulate a fairly intimate depiction of a persons life. The US government likely knows the following about all three of our hypothetical characters:

    • Name
    • Household composition

    This information can be collected through various means, including tax forms, the postal service, and census data.

    The decennial census in particular gathers a large amount of personal information. Individual information is kept private for 72 years the latest census data available to the public is from 1940.

    You might presume that intelligence and law enforcement agencies can access Census records whenever they want, but think again. The US Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the United States Code, guaranteeing confidentiality. The FBI and other government entities do not have the legal right to access this information. So the US government technically knows a lot about you through the Census and IRS, but, on paper, that information is locked away and only used in aggregate.

    • Education level
    • Where he goes to school
    • Parents income from their jobs and investments
    • Parents employment status
    • Employment status

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    Techviolent Threats Ripple Through Far

    Eric Feinberg, an internet sleuth who is vice president of a group called the Coalition for a Safer Web, said he saw a large volume of concerning posts on Facebook and other platforms, including a map touting a “wild protest” that included a route to the Capitol.

    “If I can see this, why didn’t they see it?” he said of the FBI and other agencies.

    Court records show that FBI agents have used public social media statements in other situations to open criminal investigations and even to file charges. In June, NBC News reported on the cases of four people charged under an anti-riot statute based solely on social media posts in connection with the protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

    In one of the criminal complaints, FBI agent Ryan Monahan said that “in an effort to identify potential flashpoints for violence,” he “and other investigators monitored social media activity for evidence of imminent acts of violence.”

    Critics said that the FBI is willing to push the envelope when it comes to Black Lives Matter activists or Muslim terrorism suspects but that it has been paralyzed in the face of a burgeoning terrorism threat from white supremacists and other right-wing extremists.

    Social Media Analysis Could Play A Valuable Role In Dod Information Operations

    • Social media analysis can provide important information about adversaries, supporting communities on either side of a conflict, or other key populations. It can also inform efforts to target messages to particular audiences or influence the perceptions, decisions, or behaviors of a group.
    • Social media platforms allow users to share text, images, and videos quickly as events occur. Monitoring this traffic will help ensure that U.S. forces are prepared to respond to developing events or the spread of deceptive information.
    • U.S. service members’ social media use can compromise operational security. Social media analysis could support DoD’s prevention efforts.
    • Crowdsourcing and social media monitoring have played a critical role in humanitarian relief efforts and other civil-military operations by providing the real-time updates needed for a timely and effective response.

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