President Joe Biden’s administration is reportedly preparing to contract with private firms to surveil the social media accounts of service members to weed out those with views that the administration deems “concerning.”
The Intercept reports:
An extremism steering committee led by Bishop Garrison, a senior adviser to the secretary of defense, is currently designing the social media screening pilot program, which will “continuously” monitor military personnel for “concerning behaviors,” according to a Pentagon briefing in late March. Although in the past the military has balked at surveilling service members for extremist political views due to First Amendment protections, the pilot program will rely on a private surveillance firm in order to circumvent First Amendment restrictions on government monitoring, according to a senior Pentagon official. Though the firm has not yet been selected, the current front runner is Babel Street, a company that sells powerful surveillance tools including social media monitoring software.
A spokesperson for Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that the congressman was not aware of the alleged plan, saying, “I have discussed this with our defense team and as of right now, we have not heard anything from DoD that would confirm this story.”
A spokesperson for the House Armed Services Committee released the following statement on the matter:
The Committee understands that the Department of Defense is exploring a means of implementing social media screening in conjunction with background investigations. We anticipate that any social media screening would be intended only as an additional means of vetting cleared individuals or those seeking to obtain a security clearance, not as a tool for ongoing surveillance of all men and women in uniform. That said, Secretary Austin has been clear about his intentions to understand to what extent extremism exists in the force and its effect on good order and discipline. We look forward to hearing the results of the stand down and the Department’s plan to move forward.
The report said that the alleged pilot program will search for certain keywords to identify those that the administration deems to be potential extremists, although experts warned that the method was not only an invasion of privacy, but flawed.
“Using key words to monitor social media isn’t just an unnecessary privacy invasion, it is a flawed strategy that will ensure it is short-lived,” retired FBI agent Mike German told the publication. “It will undoubtedly produce a flood of false positives that will waste security resources and undermine morale, without identifying the real problem, which is the tolerance for those that openly engage in racist behavior and discrimination.”
CNN reported at the start of the month that the Biden administration was considering working with private firms to monitor “extremist chatter by Americans online” because the federal government is legally limited to what they can do without a warrant.
“The plan being discussed inside DHS, according to multiple sources, would, in effect, allow the department to circumvent” laws that limit what the federal government can do in surveilling U.S. citizens without a warrant, CNN reported. “A source familiar with the effort said it is not about decrypting data but rather using outside entities who can legally access these private groups to gather large amounts of information that could help DHS identify key narratives as they emerge.”
Any plans to surveil U.S. service members will likely face intense pushback, especially after a Space Force commander was allegedly forced out of the military after he warned that Marxism was infiltrating the Department of Defense.