Stern oversight in the United States

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Illena Armstrong, VP, editorial, SC Magazine
Illena Armstrong, VP, editorial, SC Magazine

At the same time that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced their plans to monitor social media sites in real time, the European Court of Justice (EU Court) was making a completely different call about the info people share on these networks.

U.S. agencies argue that monitoring social media will arm them with “situational awareness” to thwart potential attacks against the country and its critical infrastructure. The FBI, however, touted in a recent ComputerWorld article its planned legal review of these activities to ensure it doesn't compromise privacy or civil rights.

Across the pond, meanwhile, sundry publishers and copyright holders were attempting to force social media outlets to use filters to help stop illegal file sharing. They failed when the EU Court ruled that such enforcement would compromise users' privacy rights. The judgment also noted that filters would be expensive and provide little benefit to the affected businesses.

So, here in the United States, the FBI will analyze blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter streams using keyword searches. As a result, its agents will be able locate threats to our public safety and find the bad guys making them.
Groups like the Electronic Privacy Group aren't buying. They're calling for transparency and more oversight. And, on the face of it, that sounds fine. But, then, who would have the task of overseeing government monitoring?

Well, we could ask two tourists about the effectiveness of monitoring. Leigh Van Bryan and buddy Emily Bunting reportedly were detained by U.S. Customs for about 12 hours in a cell, interviewed by DHS officials, and then kicked out of the country after the agency put them on a one-day terrorist watch list for a tweet by Bryan that read, “Free this week for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America.” Because of the literal interpretation of the word “destroyed,” which, in this case simply meant partying, and another tweet about Marilyn Monroe, Bryan was charged with intending to commit a crime (weirdly, something about digging up Monroe's grave), while Bunting was charged with hanging out with a guy who might commit a crime stateside.

You feel safer? If this one example wasn't so funny, I might be crying about any number of our government's recent Orwellian moves. Regrettably, I suspect I'll get plenty more chances. At least then I might be able to write some killin' slang-riddled tweets.


Illena Armstrong is VP, editorial director of SC Magazine.
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