The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published documents released by the federal government through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the group. EFF highlights documents that point to a disturbing program by the federal government that surveilled social-networking services.
In addition to learning about surveillance of citizenship petitioners, EFF also learned that leading up to President Obama’s January 2009 inauguration, DHS established a Social Networking Monitoring Center (SNMC) to monitor social networking sites for “items of interest.” In a set of slides [PDF] outlining the effort, DHS discusses both the massive collection and use of social network information as well as the privacy principles it sought to employ when doing so.
While it is laudable to see DHS discussing the Fair Information Practice Principles [PDF] as part of the design for such a project, the breadth of sites targeted is concerning. For example, among the key “Candidates for Analysis” were general social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Flickr as well as sites that focus specifically on certain demographic groups such as MiGente and BlackPlanet, news sites such as NPR, and political commentary sites DailyKos.
According to the slides, SNMC looks for “‘items of interest’ in the routine of social networking posts on the events, organizations, activities, and environment” of important events. While the slides indicate that DHS scrutinized the information and emphasized the need to look at credible sources, evidence, and corroboration, they also suggest the DHS collected a massive amount of data on individuals and organizations explicitly tied to a political event. […]
Moreover, there have been several recent studies and papers showing how, even without PII, comments and information about people online can be “re-identified” through the use of sophisticated computational techniques and thus create privacy concerns.