New York Times
Feb. 22, 2012
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — Analysts for a Department of Homeland Security program that monitors social networks like Twitter and Facebook have been instructed to produce reports on policy debates related to the department, a newly disclosed manual shows.
But the department said it never put that category into practice when the program began in 2010. Officials repeated that portrayal in testimony last week before an oversight hearing
by a House Homeland Security subcommittee.
“I am not aware of any information we have gathered on government proposals,” testified Richard Chavez, the director of the office that oversees the National Operations Center, which runs the program.
Still, the 2011 manual, which was disclosed this week as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, lists a series of categories that constitute an “item of interest” warranting a report. One category is discussion on social media networks of “policy directives, debates and implementations related to DHS.”
It is not clear whether the department has produced such reports. Matthew Chandler, a department spokesman, said Wednesday that in practice the program had been limited to “social media monitoring for situational awareness only.”
He also said the department would review the reference guide and related materials to make sure they “clearly and accurately convey the parameters and intention of the program.”
Ginger McCall of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group that filed the lawsuit and obtained the document, argued that the manual shows that the monitoring may have gone beyond its limited portrayal by department officials.
“The D.H.S. continues to monitor the Internet for criticism of the government,” she said. “This suspicionless, overbroad monitoring quells legitimate First Amendment activity and exceeds the agency’s legal authority.”
A federal statute
cited by officials last week as the legal basis for the program gives the National Operations Center the authority “to provide situational awareness” for officials “in the event of a natural disaster, act of terrorism or other man-made disaster” and to “ensure that critical terrorism and disaster-related information reaches government decision makers.”
Officials have stressed that the program does not collect personally identifying information, like the names or Twitter account handles of the people making comments, and that it does not monitor, review or collect First Amendment-protected speech.
Full Article Here – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/23/us/house-questions-homeland-security-program-on-social-media.html