Those of us who love to keep up with our world via Twitter, Facebook and other social media need to be aware that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is increasing its surveillance of these sites in an attempt to pre-empt any sign of civil unrest in the country.
Prison Planet is reporting that the heightened surveillance is due to the wave of riots that have swept the globe in the past year, from the “Arab Spring” movement to Occupy Wall Street. Almost all of these movements used Facebook and Twitter to organize.
Although it’s considered almost naive to think that the government is not already scanning these sites for any sign of insurrection, the fact that the feds are announcing this publicly is seen by some as an indication of just how worried authorities are that the violent riots which ripped through the Middle East and Europe over the last 18 months will begin to manifest here in the U.S.
According to DHS Undersecretary Caryn Wagner, she told the Associated Press that her agency will implement new guidelines for “gleaning information” from sites such as Twitter and Facebook for “law enforcement purposes.”
Many police departments are already scanning the sites for any sign of unrest. In fact, the New York police department recently launched a special unit that focuses on scouring social media sites for clues about any plans for organizing a riot or potentially dangerous protest.
The UK took it a step further with Prime Minister David Cameron advocating for authorities to be given permission to shut down access to these sites during times of public disorder because of how the sites were used to organize the week-long riots and looting that swept through Britain in August. He came under intense criticism for suggesting such a draconian act of censorship in a society that supposedly values free speech. Even communist countries such as China accused him of hypocrisy for criticizing their routine suppression of internet use while advocating it in his own country.
The same movement is afoot in the U.S. where a bill is circulating in Congress which will give the president the ability to shut down the Internet in the event of a cyber attack. Called the “kill switch,” it is supposedly designed to protect critical infrastructure, but many privacy groups say it could also give the government the ability to censor the Web.
How this increased scrutiny manifests remains to be seen, but with a worsening economic climate predicted for the near future, it’s almost guaranteed that global unrest will continue, with much of it being organized and fueled through social media.
For this reason, government intrusion into the private lives of Americans may become a necessity we all have to learn how to live with.
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