Dept of Homeland Security Authorized To Monitor Journalists

Journalists have a tough job seeking out and reporting on stories. Gathering information as a journalist requires dedication, resources, a thick skin and the ability to build trust with your sources that they will remain protected. In the United States, a free press has been able to report on tough issues independent of government interference and free from legal reprisal.


As the role and definition of journalism has evolved, the media has faced challenges in providing much needed consistent and accurate reporting. New media channels have exploded over the past decade, all fighting for traffic, to gain an audience and build a known voice among many voices and long established media outlets. Every day dedicated journalists cover all manner of topics, in print, on the radio, on TV, online, on Twitter and other formats, stories from the local flower show to political corruption all have their place … however the media’s ability to cover more challenging stories is about to face its biggest challenge.


What are the challenges journalists will now face when reporting on sensitive issues, issues of national security, homeland security or of a political nature?  As of last week the Department of Homeland Security officially  authorized the monitoring journalists in the United States, and their activities through the Department of Homeland Security ‘s (DHS) National Operations Center (NOC)’s Media Monitoring Initiative.


On the 15th of November 2011, the DHS’s National Operations Center, in collaboration with the Operations Coordination and Planning (OCP) created the Social Networking/Media Capability (SNMC) program to allow the DHS to expedite its response planning and deployment of its operational divisions to respond to national security and crisis situation.  Under the SNMC the DHS was authorized to monitor publicly available online social media channels, including public blogs, websites, Facebook pages, Twitterstreams, under the auspices of giving the DHS situational awareness of informational superiority in a rapidly evolving situation.


With the creation of this new program, the DHS’s Privacy Office further expanded the programs ability to collect information, including Personally Identifiable Information (PII), through the Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA).


Until now, information gathered under the SNMC was used in a limited capacity, however the Department of Homeland Security has expanded this to include the regular and consistent monitoring of journalists, and their social media channels. The official purpose of tracking journalists through social media due to journalists using  “social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed,” which can assist the DHS in “[identifying] an individual to be directly or indirectly inferred, including any information which is linked or linkable to that individual.”



As the Department of Homeland Security moves its social media monitoring of journalists into a fast paced, real-time, continual tracking system, rather than a system devised to monitor developing situations, the agency will be able to use gleaned information to push its boundaries into seeking information not available in public social media spaces.  The DHS’s move to continually monitor journalists and their activities through social media will make sourcing information challenging and leave social media content potentially open to misinterpretation or leverage the intimidation of a journalist.


Does the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), really want to squander it technological and human assets continually monitoring a journalist discussing their favourite deli meats, their kid missing the school bus and their love of a baseball team?  These resources, while valuable in situations where situational awareness is required, are ineffective while reading the day to day personal tweets and blogs of journalists when a stated goal of the agency’s continual monitoring of journalists’ social media channels is to seek out “persons known to have been involved in major crimes of Homeland Security interest.”


Benjamin Franklin, a Founding Father of the United States, is famously quoted as stating

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty, to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” before the Pennsylvania Assembly on the 11th of November 1755.


Well … it turns out maybe Benjamin Franklin was correct, maybe those of us in the United States deserve neither Liberty nor Safety since we have given up our essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety.


Happy Flying!




  1. While I am not out there saying or doing anything that should raise any flags, this is just taking it too far. DHS needs to be reigned in. What happened to civil liberties.

    A long time reader and a big supporter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

  2. So much for free press . . . apparently the Dept .of homeland security is going to be Obama’s gestapo, wonderful (NOT!)

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