Feds Roll Out “See Something, Say Something” for the Internet
Encourage citizens to report terrorist websites and social media messages
The Department of Homeland Security wants $1 million of taxpayer money to initiate a citizen surveillance program online.
The PSA “will look to raise public and private sector awareness of cybersecurity and to emphasize the importance of cyber awareness and information safekeeping,” an FY 2017 congressional budget document produced by the Department of Homeland Security explains.
The new initiative will undoubtedly fail as stupendously as its real world counterpart introduced following the September 11, 2001 attacks. In New York, the program produced largely false leads and other wasteful distractions of time and millions of dollars.
Reports of harmless goings-on clogged the law-enforcement system and kept officials from investigating serious threats, New York Magazine reported in 2012.
“There have been no people stopped from doing an act of terror, there have been no people charged with terror through the informants that have come forward,” Harvey Molotch, an NYU sociologist, told the magazine.
A report produced by the ACLU in 2013 points out that a “see something, say something” program in California “resulted in plenty of seeing and saying, but has failed to turn up much in the way of usable counter-terrorism intelligence,” writes Tim Cushing for Techdirt. The program also produced “a strong culture of paranoia” within government.
Although millions of dollars of tax money poured into the Department of Homeland Security to support the program and it was adopted by national sports leagues, transit systems, and big-box retailers, most Americans remain unaware of it. 55% never heard of it, according to a Gallup poll conducted in December, 2013.
Despite the inefficacy of the New York program, the government produced a counterterrorism app following the Paris attacks. Beau Duffy, a spokesperson for the New York State Police Public Information Office, said the app was designed to report suspicious activity, including “an unattended backpack or briefcase in a public place, a vehicle that’s parked in an unusual location, or someone who is showing an unusual interest in a building or other facility.”
A similar app was released by Ohio Homeland Security officials in 2014. It was debuted on the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Government Focuses On Internet Speech
Over the last few months the government has increased its rhetoric and propaganda about the supposed threat of internet-based terrorism. Earlier this month the United Nations took up the issue.
“The Islamic State’s exploitation of the Internet and social media continues to bedevil U.S. policymakers, legislators, and tech companies,” explains the Council on Foreign Relations.
Attention has focused on encryption technologies described as the “internet going dark” by government. “Statements from law enforcement officials that encryption poses a threat to their efforts against terrorism and crime, versus support for encryption from civil society and companies,” the CFR notes.
The Department of Homeland Security effort to identify and purge from the internet material government considers terroristic will eventually resemble an effort initiated by Britain.
Last February UK Home Secretary Theresa May declared members of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance — the NSA, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Canada’s Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) — should force internet service providers to eradicate what government considers “extremist messages” from the web.
May’s proposal to stop “the message of hate from spreading” included building “capabilities at the European Internet Referrals Unit at Europol to secure the removal of terrorist propaganda from the internet.”
For now the DHS internet “see something, say something” initiative is limited to reporting what citizens consider terrorist websites and messages on social media.
The program will eventually expand and become part of a larger international government effort to sanitize the internet.
For the United States terrorist messages are not limited to the ravings of fundamentalist Muslims. According to numerous government reports, dangerous ideas and speech are also transmitted by domestic groups, including constitutionalists, antiwar activists and “sovereign citizens,” or those who do not recognize the authority of a centralized federal government.