Biden to Use Private Firms to Surveil Military Members’ Social Media Accounts
Program will rely on a private surveillance firm to circumvent First Amendment
The Biden administration is poised to start contracts with private firms to surveil service member's social media accounts to find those with views they deem “concerning.”
According to The Intercept:
An extremism steering committee led by Bishop Garrison, a senior adviser to the secretary of defense, is currently designing the social media screening pilot program, which will “continuously” monitor military personnel for “concerning behaviors,” according to a Pentagon briefing in late March.
Although in the past the military has balked at surveilling service members for extremist political views due to First Amendment protections, the pilot program will rely on a private surveillance firm to circumvent First Amendment restrictions on government monitoring, according to a senior Pentagon official.
Though the firm has not yet been selected, the current front runner is Babel Street, a company that sells powerful surveillance tools, including social media monitoring software.
A spokesperson for Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) said the congressman was not aware of Biden's plan.
"I have discussed this with our defense team, and as of right now, we have not heard anything from DoD that would confirm this story.”
A spokesperson for the House Armed Services Committee said in the following statement:
"The Committee understands that the Department of Defense is exploring a means of implementing social media screening in conjunction with background investigations."
"We anticipate that any social media screening would be intended only as an additional means of vetting cleared individuals or those seeking to obtain a security clearance, not as a tool for ongoing surveillance of all men and women in uniform."
"That said, Secretary Austin has been clear about his intentions to understand to what extent extremism exists in the force and its effect on good order and discipline."
"We look forward to hearing the results of the stand down and the Department’s plan to move forward."
The pilot program will look for specific keywords to find potential extremists, but experts said such a method was not only flawed but an invasion of privacy.
Retired FBI agent Mike German said:
“Using keywords to monitor social media isn’t just an unnecessary privacy invasion; it is a flawed strategy that will ensure it is short-lived."
“It will undoubtedly produce a flood of false positives that will waste security resources and undermine morale, without identifying the real problem, which is the tolerance for those that openly engage in racist behavior and discrimination.”
Neon Nettle reported earlier this month Biden was considering hiring private firms to surveil “extremist chatter by Americans online” due to limitations the federal government has without a warrant.
CNN reported at the time:
“The plan being discussed inside DHS, according to multiple sources, would, in effect, allow the department to circumvent” laws that limit what the federal government can do in surveilling U.S. citizens without a warrant.
“A source familiar with the effort said it is not about decrypting data but rather using outside entities who can legally access these private groups to gather large amounts of information that could help DHS identify key narratives as they emerge.”
The private firms the Biden administration is considering would “act as middlemen” to obtain the information consisting of “broad summaries or analysis of narratives that are emerging on these sites.
"It would not “target specific individuals," the report added.