US Capitol attack: is the government’s expanded online surveillance effective? | US Capitol attack

January 9, 2022 0 By administrator

In the year since the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol, federal authorities have faced intense scrutiny for failing to detect warning signs on social media.

After the 6 January insurrection, the US agency tasked with combatting terrorism and extremism, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has expanded its monitoring of online activity, with officials touting a new domestic terrorism intelligence branch focused on tracking online threats and sharing information about possible attacks.

A senior DHS official told the Guardian this week the department aims to track “narratives known to provoke violence” and platforms that have been linked to threats. The primary goal, the official said, was to warn potential targets when they should enhance security.

In the days leading up to the anniversary of the riot, for example, the agency saw an uptick in activity on platforms tied to white supremacists and neo-Nazis and warned law enforcement partners when appropriate, the official said. This monitoring relies on DHS analysts, not artificial intelligence, and doesn’t target “ideologies”, the official added, but rather “calls for violence”.

The Guardian spoke with Harsha Panduranga, counsel with the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a not-for-profit organization that has tracked police and government entities’ online surveillance programs, about the US government’s monitoring of social media in the wake of 6 January.

Although DHS says its online efforts are consistent with privacy protections, civil rights and civil liberties, the expansion of social media monitoring still raised concerns, Panduranga argued. Without proper safeguards, a new report from the center warns, the expanded social media surveillance could be both ineffective at preventing attacks and harmful to marginalized groups that end up targeted and criminalized by “counter-terrorism” efforts.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Which US government agencies monitor online activity?

Many federal agencies monitor social media, including DHS, the FBI, the state department, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the US Postal Service, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the US Marshals Service and the Social Security Administration (SSA). Our work has primarily focused on DHS, FBI and the state department, which make extensive use of social media for monitoring, targeting and information collection.

Why do these agencies monitor civilians’ social media?

The FBI and DHS use social media monitoring to assist with investigations and to detect potential threats. Some of those investigations do not require a showing of criminal activity. For example, FBI agents can open an “assessment” [the lowest-level investigative stage] simply on the basis of preventing crime or terrorism, and without a factual basis. During assessments, FBI agents can…

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