Hope you’re not shy, because there’s a good chance you’re being watched by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. According to a government document, the DHS has been monitoring social media as well as select blogs and message boards for more than a year.
The “privacy compliance review” obtained by Reuters comes from last November, but apparently this surveillance has been ongoing since at least June 2010. According to the document, it’s designed to “collect information used in providing situational awareness and establishing a common operating picture” with “data published via social media sites [used] solely to provide more accurate situational awareness, a more complete common operating pictures, and more timely information for decision makers.” In other words, the DHS is using the Internet to find out what’s happening, same as everyone else, but it certainly sounds more disturbing.
The review explains that all information monitored is “publicly available,” with whatever’s harvested kept “for no more than five years.” Among the sites monitored are Facebook and MySpace, as well as “more than a dozen” sites that monitor Twitter activity and aggregate tweets and conversations on the micro-blogging service. Photo and video sharing sites are also present, with YouTube, Flickr and — even more surprisingly — Hulu all being monitored. Perhaps that last one’s just an excuse to catch up on episodes of House.
Outside of social media, websites monitored include the New York Times Lede Blog, the Drudge Report and Huffington Post, as well as two Wired blogs: Threat Level and Danger Room. WikiLeaks, Cryptome, JihadWatch and Informed Comment also make appearances on the list. The report sounds more worrisome in abstract than the details actually suggest; the idea of “big brother watching” is unsettling, but we already knew the government was doing this sort of thing, so is it really a surprise to learn it’s also paying attention to other parts of the publicly-available Internet, too?
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.