Federal law enforcement agencies are violating the 1974 Privacy Act by gathering, storing, and demanding social media posts be throttled or censored
The sensible ambition of every human is to feel secure. To feel safe. To be worry-free from random or intentional attacks.
We desire it so much, that most are willing to sacrifice a little less freedom to obtain it.
Normally, those precious freedoms are gobbled-up by some government agency promising to snatch only a small portion of our personal sovereignty if we allow them to act as an iron shield against organized mobsters, gangs, criminal syndicates, and terrorists.
So, track us. We don’t care. Monitor us. Listen to what we say. Put a camera on every corner. Review what we write. Frisk us. Scan us. Snoop all you want. We have nothing to hide. We know the difference between right and wrong. After all, it’s not about us.
Heck, we hardly notice those freedoms being scarfed up. The invasion of our privacy rights is ghostly, invisible, and ethereal.
All is fine and dandy‚ until…
…the government redefines what’s right and wrong.
Then we see it.
Now, we’re the bad actor. And good luck trying to reclaim those freedoms that could have protected us in the past.
Last week, Intercept (a leftwing, online news publication) shook America with the astounding revelation that the FBI and Homeland Security are working with Big Tech to scrub the internet of information they label “inaccurate.”
“Behind closed doors, and through pressure on private platforms, the US government has used its power to try to shape online discourse,” the article reveals.
The goal of the Government is to scrub the internet of social media posts that “drive a wedge between the populace and the government.”
To that end, agencies inside the FBI and Homeland Security – that previously focused on international terrorists, such as ISIS – are using their snooping tools to go after Americans who post “misinformation,” “disinformation,” or “malinformation.”
If any of these law-enforcement employees determine a social media post will lower the nation’s “trust in government,” the content is flagged, stored, and then sent back to the originating social media platform with the expectation the message will be suppressed, throttled, or eliminated.
The snooping tools of the FBI: Babel X, Dataminr, ZeroFox
As much as I would like to reveal more about the findings in the Intercept story, that’s not the intent of this article.
I aim to broaden the discussion on a few things the Intercept article briefly mentioned.
Intercept reports that government officials have a unique portal to Facebook to request takedowns or throttling of postings they don’t like, which means anything that harms the “cognitive infrastructure” of the United States.
(The “cognitive infrastructure” would mean everything would be game)
But one of the most puzzling questions I wanted to be answered was how the FBI has the manpower to review virtually every social media message posted on the World Wide Web.
One of the answers is Babel X.
In April of this year, the FBI spent $27 million to purchase 5,000 licenses from Babel X.
In its purchase request, the FBI notified Babel X:
“The tool shall be able to gather information from the following mandatory online and social media data sources: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Deep/Dark Web, VK, and Telegram,” the bureau said.
But they’re hoping for a far greater reach.
The FBI also asked Babel X to give them the ability to search Snapchat, TikTok, Reddit, Gab, Parler, Discord, and others.
Bable X aside, the FBI also uses Dataminr to scour the data highway.
The FBI has 200 agents plugged into Dataminr (with its “advanced alerting tool”) to review Twitter posts that meet the bureau’s interest.
Of course, the FBI claims they need these tools to combat “terrorists and other criminals” that “communicate, recruit, and raise funds for illegal activity.”
But thanks to FBI official Laura Dehmlow [quoted in the Intercept story] we know the FBI also wants to eliminate the threat of “subversive data utilized to drive a wedge between the populace and the government.”
That “subversive” information, according to Intercept and a lawsuit filed by the states of Missouri and Louisiana, includes “malinformation” or “disinformation” of Joe Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal, Covid vaccines, the Hunter Biden laptop story, racial justice, the Ukraine war, and the 2020 election fraud claims.
The answer to how the FBI can monitor and takedown posts believed to harm “trust in government” is also found in a program called ZeroFox.
In court records, the FBI said they also monitor the Internet with ZeroFox (a $14 million contract) that surveils organizations across social media, including web domains, online news sites, blogs, forums, deep/dark web, and even email.
The “great” feature of ZeroFox is that it provides its customers with a “takedown service,” which allows the FBI to hide, delete and block posts they don’t like.
Read this from ZeroFox:
“Although ZeroFox will initiate a takedown request on behalf of a customer [such as the FBI], the social network or other online provider assesses the request against its own terms, rules and policies and decides whether to act on, or reject, the request. In other words, the third-party provider controls whether the material is removed.”
Of course, big corporations may fail to convince Facebook, for instance, to remove an unflattering post. But a request coming from the FBI?
Who wants to get on the wrong side of the FBI?
The 1974 Privacy Act protects American citizens
At one time, the FBI and Homeland Security focused their surveillance efforts on ISIS and other international, radicalized terrorist organizations and cartels.
For the most part, Americans applauded these law enforcement agencies and their zeal to protect America from another 9/11 attack. We weren’t ignorant, though. We knew it meant the FBI and DHS would resort to monitoring every crevice of the virtual world in all its forms, styles, and behaviors.
But we convinced ourselves we would never become the target of the US Government and their massive and invasive snooping tools that can collect, store, suppress or eliminate what we post.
Now, we know better.
But we can fight back.
The 1974 Privacy Act makes it illegal for the Federal Government to engage in any activity that gathers, maintains, keeps secret files, or releases to non-government parties the identity of citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.
Here are two important sections found under 5 US 552a of the 1974 Privacy Act that we can reasonably believe are currently being violated by many federal law-enforcement agencies:
“Each agency that maintains a system of records shall maintain no record describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment unless expressly authorized by statue or by the individual about whom the record is maintained or unless pertinent to and within the scope of an authorized law enforcement activity.” (emphasis added)
“Any officer or employee of an agency…who knowing that disclosure of the specific material is so prohibited, willfully discloses the material in any manner to any person or agency not entitled to receive it, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not more than $5,000.” (emphasis added)
The takeaway is:
1. It is illegal for the Federal Government to maintain, collect, or use any social media post that falls under the protection of the First Amendment.
2. It is illegal for any federal employee to release that social media post to any person or agency (think Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.) that is not entitled to receive it.
In addition, the 1974 Privacy Act requires the Federal Government to explain when the information is being gathered, why it is needed, and how it will be used. They must also ensure that those records are handled only for the reasons given.
Who believes the feds, when gathering up posts on Joe Biden’s failed withdrawal from Afghanistan, for example, are completing the process of explaining why that collection was needed and how it will be used?
America needs answers.
The way to get those answers is for Congress to immediately launch a full-scale investigation using its sledgehammer power of subpoenas to determine the numerous violations of the 1974 Privacy Act, including criminal offenses.