a little bird told us

Homeland Security Is In Your Tweets, Waiting For Your Revolution

don't mind me

The US government is watching our every tweet, but don’t worry, it’s just to get a “situational awareness” of the world. Since 2010, the Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring “publicly available” information such as forums, Twitter accounts, and websites like WikiLeaks, Facebook and Hulu (what? – “Hey boss, I’m just monitoring these SNL clips for classified information disguised as terrible jokes”). So millions of people saying things that may or may not be true makes the job of the government easier? Not surprisingly, the DHS seems a little confused about how long it holds on to the information it trawls: a spokesperson says it doesn’t hold on to Internet traffic data; the document pertaining to this initiative says it does, but “for no more than five years.” Oh, whew.

The biggest takeaway from the publicly available list of publicly available sites that the DHS monitors is that Twitter appears to be officially Important, despite the ridiculous volume of crap that it publishes (to sift through it all, the DHS uses no less than 13 different trend sites and six search sites).

Of course, ideally, the US government would like more than just the public tweets: it subpoenaed Twitter in December 2010 in an attempt to obtain private messages sent between Julian Assange and other Wikileaks workers.

And when insidery maneuvers and legal action doesn’t work, the government isn’t afraid to turn to the private sector to get the digital wisdom of people who have venture capital enough to obtain such wisdom: in the Bay Area, a private company creepily named Vigilant Video helps the police by tracking the locations of people’s cars using license plate scanners. That doesn’t yet conflict with the Supreme Court’s as-yet-undecided verdict on whether it’s constitutional for investigators to track cars using GPS devices without a warrant (if it ever will). But SCOTUS has “expressed deep reservations” about such tracking, which is nice of it.

What of the Internet “kill switch” legislation currently coming back onto the scene, which could give the government authorization to shut down the Internet, Egypt-steez, in times of crisis? Presumably it would still give the government the ability to somehow “work offline.” [Reuters]

About the author

Liz is a writer. She has written for this site, evidently, and also The Awl, The San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, The Economist and others. She is the author of a short story collection, Cover Story.

View all articles by Liz Colville
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          1. DaRooster

            Shit, us felons have a hard enough time getting shit expunged after… hmm… 28 years… with absolutely NOTHING since.
            Maybe it was from hanging out with you thugs?

          2. DaRooster

            Is that spliff from my home town in The Emerald Triangle?

            And by "nothing since" of course… I mean "eluded stuff".

          3. PalinzADummy

            Could be. Could be.

            Say, uh, this, um, hometown of yours? Are we talkin' good prices, high availability, Cheeziel quality, heah? Cos, you know, ya never know when I might be up in your neck of the woods, and all.

          4. DaRooster

            I figured since you are not from here it quite possibly could be… since most of the good stuff goes outta here ASAP. It has been so long since I played the game that I wouldn't know where to start finding it in any decent way.

          5. PalinzADummy

            Dood, dood, dood, I'm SO kidding. I'm not the kind of person to put my business in the public sphere, if you get my drift. Apart from which, I'm too old for that shit, mostly, any more. Being as I forget stuff without any assistance anywho. Wut?

        1. James Michael Curley

          But, but, since EVERYONE knows its never the obvious one then the obvious one is the one that is obviously above suspicion which makes him the perfect operative since everyone else is subject to at least a little suspect. So while everyone suspects everyone else, except the one who is obviously above suspicion, the one no one suspects can freely garner the suspicions of those who are at least a little bit suspicious about everyone else who is not the obvious one.

          Am I making myself clear?

          1. James Michael Curley

            “The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palacehas the brewthat istrue!”

    1. tessiee

      Don't be silly!
      That's such a paranoid thing to think.
      Now, speak up loud and clear into this nice VASE OF FLOWERS…

  1. YouBetcha

    So just like they did in Iran during the Iranian elections, but more Freedomy? I guess that's ok. Is Michelle Obama fanfic porn going to draw too much attention? I can take that down.

    1. YouBetcha

      There will be money changing hands, yes? I think that'll be fine. I draw the line at changing grown men's soiled diapers or carrying luggage through the airport. OK no I'm not, but that will cost extra.

    2. tessiee

      Yeah, but unlike the normal men of the world, they want in with their shriveled, flaccid, icky old laws.

      I mean, if they wanted sexytime, that's what rent boys are for, amirite?

  2. Generation[redacted]

    "classified information disguised as terrible jokes”

    That's the best explanation for SNL I've heard so far.

  3. SayItWithWookies

    You'd be amazed at the amount of suspicious activity there is on InterracialLesbianThreesomes.com.

  4. Fukui_sanYesOta

    Uh, I sorta kinda work in this field.

    The most valuable information you can build is a psychographic representation of a person built from who is followed on twitter and the friends list on facebook and google. Obviously there are pattern-scanning approaches to analyze text as well.

    My handy hints of the day:

    * don't use your facebook or twitter logins as an "easy" way to sign up to comment or anything else on sites
    * don't use facebook, actually, or twitter

    Ugh. This is depressingly snark-free. Just think about it, because you log in to any site using your facebook account for "convenience" that gives the site carte blanche to rip shit-tons of information about you.

    Also, don't read free republic. That's just because it's shit.

    1. comrad_darkness

      Disconnect.me is a great extension to keep sites like facebook from tracking you from site to site even if you don't comment, ever. They track you anyway.

      1. Fukui_sanYesOta

        Belt-onions are remarkable, but belt-garlic even stops you ever watching the Twilight movies.

    2. smokefillednewyear

      I hate Facebook. I created a profile specifically to enter a 'New Rules' contest months ago (the ONLY way you could enter–I even read all the fine print.) I wonder if my login still exists.
      Does anybody besides me hate the pipl.com redesign? (Does anybody but me even use that site?)

        1. Crank_Tango

          I can't figure out what side we're on tho, this snark shit gets a little confusing after a while. I guess since I have only used three capital letters in this post, and mandatory ones at that, I am a libtard. OK 4 caps.

    3. Generation[redacted]

      That's assuming you ever posted anything remotely truthful to your facebook account. If it's all lies, exaggerations, and sad self-delusion, then you're in the clear.

      1. Isner_Mahut

        Years ago on MySpace I said my hobbies were drug running, white slavery, overthrowing the capitalist system and taking naps (or something like that). A very nice FBI agent paid me a visit to ask a few questions about this.
        Methinks The Man doesn't really get snark.

    4. not that Dewey

      I just reminded my sister about that "convenience" thing — trip advisor had decided to publicize the fact that she was going to be out of town for a few days, conveniently, in case any stalkers/home burglars would care to stop by her place and sniff her undies/steal everything.

    5. Catabite

      (Also, snark-free)

      I've also heard that some analysis groups are working on ways to monitor Twitter and Google searches to track developing pandemics, so I can see Twitter being used for biosecurity, maybe

      And I'm on DCRentboys.com for the same reason! Some brave soul needs to go take a look at those boys, make sure they're not harboring any, uh, bioengineered STDs, for America.

  5. coolhandnuke

    With just two or three Wall Streeters and bankers facing prosecution from looting the planet, it might seem prudent for DHS to employ a few more agents to monitor the corporate/financial sector than Twitter.

    1. tessiee

      *laughs hysterically*
      Monitor the…
      Do you hear what this guy…?
      The corporate…!
      *catches breath, wipes tears from eyes*
      You slay me, dude.

  6. KeepFnThatChicken

    …it subpoenaed Twitter in December 2010 in an attempt to obtain private messages sent between Julian Assange and other Wikileaks workers.

    I have twelve email addresses, and am known under three childish aliases, and four cell phone numbers. I log onto six forums and countless websites — each with a differing username and password combo — and I daily mouth off with no filter to an average group of "just-like-me's" on Facebook, yet somehow I'm going to save my darkest secrets for the private side of Twitter?!

    God damn. Come on, China. At least you have the balls to pull the most enthralling TV programs off the air every once in a while, and now I fucking understand why.

  7. Bonghits4Jesus

    Vigilant Video won't matter much in 10 years after everyone gets their teevees with embedded facial recognition technology.

    1. Generation[redacted]

      The advanced 3D sets come with nifty headgear that administer eye drops and hold your eyelids open.

  8. DaRooster

    "…a spokesperson says it doesn’t hold on to Internet traffic data… for no more than 5 years…"

    "Is INDEFINITELY longer than 5 years Joe?"

  9. Mumbletypeg

    Imagine that, our sh!t being found so worthwhile as to slog through for "nefarious" purposes. Why until New Yorker quoted us last week I couldn't be sure anyone of note paid attention to these here ramblin'natterings; except maybe for those venomous, obese, imbecile-types..

    ETA: "shiftless," also, too

  10. Callyson

    The purpose of the monitoring, says the government document, is to "collect information used in providing situational awareness and establishing a common operating picture."
    OK, so they have no idea what they are doing or why. Got it.

    1. tessiee

      I assumed that the translation of that was, "to monitor your internet use so that we can better target spam and advertising pop-ups", but yours is good, too.

    1. nounverb911

      -.. …. … / .. … / ..-. ..- .-.. .-.. / — ..-. / ..-. ..- -. -. -.– / .–. . — .–. .-.. . .-.-.-

      1. BigDumbRedDog

        · · — · · · — — · — · — · — — / · — · · — — — — — — — · — · · — · — — ·
        — · — · — —

        Oh my god, that took way too long to figure out. Nevermind. I would rather go to gitmo than do that all day.

          1. Fare la Volpe

            GAWD, San Francisco has such shitty cell reception, Mom. Now I know exactly what it's like to be at Auschwitz!

  11. Neoyorquino

    When I get disappeared, I'll hold on to my cherished Wonkette snark as long as I can. But I'm pretty sure that rat at the end of my face cage will have his way.

  12. ChernobylSoup

    DHS is using their TSA agents for the task, so they'll probably run out of paper before they get all the tweets printed and filed anyway.

  13. MissTaken

    My best friend put a piece of duct tape on her mac's webcam because she's convinced the DHS is monitoring her Mafia Wars and Cafe World play and doesn't want them to know what she really looks like.

    1. Fare la Volpe

      Wait…you mean she isn't 5'7" 100lbs with DD breasts? But her high angle, low focus shots were so convincing.

      1. MissTaken

        Oh no, that's exactly what she looks like. She just doesn't want some government goon knowing that.

  14. flamingpdog

    When I was a pup, I wanted to grow up to be a professional mattress tester. Now my grandchilluns can dream about becoming professional Hulu monitors. PROGRESS!!

  15. BarackMyWorld

    What about people who actually want to be watched by the government because they're attention whores?

  16. Huevos Ocupados

    I, for one, welcome our Fatherland Overlords. I am a good person and have nothing to fear. I believe in God and work hard at my job, of which I am very grateful to have. My salary is meager but more than fair. I must admit I am afraid of the Muslims, but I sleep well at night knowing that my government is doing everything it can to protect me. Often porn websites will pop up on my computer screen, but that is only because it has a virus. I recite the pledge of allegiance every time I see the flag, and my favorite musical artist is Toby Keith, though I would never dream of downloading music illegally. I will go to my grave a proud American.

  17. ShaveTheWhales

    I'm particularly impressed with the high level of discrimination shown in the list of search terms, e.g., "aid", "emergency", "relief", "warning", "watch", "hacker", "China", "target", "plot", "dock", "electric", "airport", "gas", "pork", "flu", "facility", "prevention".

    Also, "RSSOwl"?? Owls, I didn't even know you had a feed.

    1. Blueb4sunrise

      When earlier lists of suspect words issued by DHS, I believe that there was a sudden and drastic increase in the use of those words.

      "aid", "emergency", "relief", "warning", "watch", "hacker", "China", "target", "plot", "dock", "electric", "airport", "gas", "pork", "flu", "facility", "prevention".

      1. tessiee

        I'm not sure that it's mathematically possible to have a drastic increase in the use of the word "pork" on wonkette.

  18. thefrontpage

    The Center for Freedom for Free People just intercepted this interesting memo from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, via a high-ranking, highly-knowledgable, well-placed, informed and educated federal government source:


    From: The Secretary's Office
    To: Homeland Security Media Monitoring Office
    Date: Jan. 6, 2012
    Re: Websites and media outlets to add to Official Monitoring List

    All Homeland Security Department Media Monitoring Office Employees:

    Secretary Napolitano has hereby officially ordered that the following media outlets and entities be officially monitored, every day, including Saturdays and Sundays, by the Homeland Security Department Media Monitoring Office. All reports shall be sent directly to the Deputy Secretary's Office, the Secretary's Office, and the Media Monitoring Office Director's Office.

  19. thefrontpage

    These entities shall be monitored daily:

    1. Wonkette.
    2. The Drudge Report
    3. Mr. Skin
    4. Playboy
    5. Saturday Night Live, especially Weekend Update
    6. The Onion
    7. The Washington City Paper
    8. The Daily Show
    9. The Colbert Report
    10. Mad Magazine
    11. Cracked Magazine
    12. Jugs Magazine
    13. Hustler Magazine
    14. "CBS Sunday Morning"
    15. All National Public Radio programs
    16. WMAL
    17. WBAL
    18. Rush Limbaugh
    19. Bill O'Reilly
    20. Sean Hannity
    21. "It's Academic"
    22. "Jeopardy"
    23. "Match Game"
    24. Combat re-runs
    25. "Mission Impossible" re-runs

    Thank you for your attention to this matter.


  20. Barb

    Then you are really commenting in your underwear! I am wearing a sock monkey nightie.

    I had a double comment below and I deleted one of them. It is showing as "deleted by admin" which is kinda funny for this subject.

      1. Barb

        I'm wearing a nightie because I am awake and I don't want my neighbor, the head of the TSA here (for realz) to see me. That, and I am sitting right nest to an open window to get some air.

        Jeff and I were at the airport last month and ran into my neighbor and he was asking what we were doing and I responded loudly, "we're drug mules!" I discovered that your voice really carries at the ABQ airport.

        1. PalinzADummy

          Sweet CHRIST, Barb! Don't DO that! We needz you here to keep us on teh snark track.

          If it makes you feel any better, they won't use NDAA to disappear you; Prez O said so in his signing statement.

          1. Barb

            I love my neighbor! I always have Snausages for his black lab, Hailey and his wife is awesome. For Jeff to run three casinos he can't even have a parking ticket if he wants to keep his gaming license.

          2. PalinzADummy

            Black labs are awesomely silly dogs. I promise if I'm ever asked to testify that you thought drug mules were a cool new type of footgear for bedroom sexaytime.

  21. PsycWench

    Attention DHS: I heard Rush Limbaugh talk about turning to terrorism to support his Oxycontin habit. You probably ought to check on that.

  22. Hera Sent Me

    I assumed my, and everybody else's, every online action has been monitored and archived by the US government, at least since 09/12/01.

    Or at least after Bush propagandist Ari Fleischer said on 09/29/01 – they [Americans] need to watch what they say, watch what they do.

    When the government says it's listening, it's wise to assume it is.

  23. thefrontpage

    Coming Friday, Jan. 13th: More exerpts from "The Bidens," the exclusive new book outlning the colorful, engaging, fascinating behind-the-scenes happenings in the Vice President's Office and at the Vice President's House. "The Bidens," by Bob Bernwood, is scheduled to be released nationwide on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012, from Political Press, Washington, D.C., 496 pages, hardcover, $29.95. Available at all local bookstores, including Border's and the Georgetown Barnes and Noble.

    1. tessiee

      ""The Bidens," the exclusive new book outlning the colorful, engaging, fascinating behind-the-scenes happenings in the Vice President's Office and at the Vice President's House. "

      I call dibs on the sitcom rights!

  24. CapnFatback

    Oh, woe, there are spies among us! C'mon, I'm sure that at least ten percent of you aren't posting under your Christian names. For example, apparently Ken Layne is now posting under the handle "Liz Colville."

    —Cap'n Thaddeus Q. Fatback

  25. MissTaken

    It's okay though, the government has never overstepped the lines of privacy and illegal search and seizure.

    Oh look! It's a black helicopter circling the building. How fun!

  26. Lazy Media

    Yeaahhh. I do this sort of "monitoring" sometimes for the Navy. You know when you Google your own name? It's pretty much that. Some low-level DHS/DoD schlub is in charge of some lame project, and they use Vocus or their own drones to see what's been said about it. So, basically, Big Brother.

      1. SorosBot

        When I've googled myself (and man, that sounds dirty), none of the results are actually me, at least for the first several pages. Apparently I'm a college football player, I died in 2010 and I've been arrested several times. Oh and all the other mes seem to live in the South.

        1. MissTaken

          You're lucky. I have a very unusual name (have only met one other in my life) thanks to my mom's obsession with Rod Stewart WAY back in the day. I'm easily Googable.

          1. SorosBot

            Wait, I think I've figured out your first name. It's Hot Legs, isn't it?

            The weird thing is, I thought I had an unusual last name, having never met anyone outside my family who shares it; but apparently it's common in the South.

          2. MissTaken

            How did you guess it so quickly?!

            My last name is very common in the South, too. But my dad was born in Alabama, so that makes sense. Here in California, though, it's a laughingstock.

          3. emmelemm

            I have a pretty unusual name too. When I Google myself {whoo! tickles…}, I find asymptotically close to zero results that are me, and almost all of them are from a random journal article that I was a co-co-author on in college, close to 20 years ago. There appear to be one or two living people with my same name occasionally doing stuff, and then there are just tons and tons of genealogical references to people who lived in the 1800s.

          4. emmelemm

            Tarnation! My stars and garters! I actually just Giz-noogled myself for the first time in a long while, and because a friend of mine convinced me to create a Google+ account (on which there is no actual "information", but I did use my real name), and which I never use or look at, of course Google is putting me right up at the top. And then, there are images of me! Well, one image, that I uploaded. Which is of my dog. Sigh.

  27. SoBeach

    I can't imagine a better tool of oppression than dossiers on every American's on-line life. Most people would do whatever they're told if it meant keeping their sordid secrets from bosses, family, and friends.

    Stasi had to actually conduct surveillance to gather incriminating and embarrassing information to use against people. Social media thoughtfully provides APIs to save everyone the trouble.

  28. jus_wonderin

    I just want to know this. Do I need to take off my shoes and empty my pockets to use Twitter? Wand me!!!!

  29. elviouslyqueer

    That image is very disturbing. I wish you’d have chosen something else. I realize that it’s a shameful part of American history that we should never forget, but it’s too much.

  30. widestanceshakedown

    I used to comfort myself (settle down, not in that way) by boasting that I have no FB, Twitter, Yammer, Slobber, Blather or Drooler accounts (hell is other people, so what possible use is social media to me?), but now I'm freaking out that this makes me extra suspect.

    What's a paranoia-tending type to do in this world?

      1. widestanceshakedown

        FERST, bichez!!11!!!

        YES! Finally, I'm first at something, and not just "short folks in front" for group photos!

          1. widestanceshakedown

            Cameras probably not allowed, but I'll try to sketch some stick figures with my blood, if I have any to spare.

  31. OneYieldRegular

    They can take away my Twitter (please), but they'll never take away my top secret invisibility spray.

  32. jus_wonderin

    Ya know, this might concern me if I wasn't certain that DHS and TSA couldn't even budge my door open for all the bodies stacked up like cord wood in my living room.

      1. jus_wonderin

        Aw shucks. It was gonna be a big, fun party. You would have met all my other friends…and Mom.

  33. VinnyThePooh

    I'll go sit at home and await the goons that will take me to Guantanamo for posting a pic of myself urinating on a Homemade Insecurity emblem.

  34. DerrickWildcat

    Janet Napolitano is a pretty awesome lady. I can't imagine someone that attractive being so intelligent and responsible with all the power she has. I bet she is the greatest boss in the world to work for. The DHS makes America great!

    Derrick Wildcat.

    1. CapnFatback

      See? I'm positive you are the real Derrick McCoy (oops, I mean "Wildcat," ha ha lol) because you signed your name.


      Cap'n Thaddeus Q. Fatback, III

  35. DahBoner

    The Internet Kill switch should'nt affect Gum'mint workers much.

    They can always play Solataire offline….

  36. Eve8Apples

    I thought I heard something about Bill O'Reilly tweeting a plot to smuggle a bomb onto a plane by stuffing it in his anus. I recommend a thorough body cavity search. Use a rusty cattle prod covered in Louisiana hot sauce. Don't bother with lube.

  37. Eve8Apples

    If they are holding onto tweets for five years, I demand that Wonkette comments be archived in the Library of Congress.

  38. sati_demise

    Janet, wtf happened to you?

    I guess because we only had the real rabid right wing to compare you with in Arizona, it skewed any real assessment of you.

    Hi HLS – Could you ask the TSA when am I going to get back the two sting ray wallets and custom made pocket knife you stole out of my checked bag? Still waiting.

    Oh, and if I forget I left a VitaCoco in my bag, just let me drink it from now on, m'kay? Food is fuckin' expensive these days. I can slam one of those down in less than 5 seconds.

    1. tessiee

      So, we're talking a step *down* from the brainiacs at the airport who stand in front of x-ray machines at crotch level all day?

  39. PhilippePetain

    Hey, I've got a great idea, fuckwads! How about you ADD Stormfront to that list, and take off like every other fucking thing! Fucking dipshits!

  40. C_R_Eature

    I have to admit that I'm gratified at the thought that somewhere, under the gaze of hundreds of security cameras and sensors, past a security gate staffed by heavily armed M.P.'s authorized to use deadly force, in a compound surrounded by a triple fence barrier of Concertina wire, past another heavily armed guard at a checkpoint door in a windowless cube building, past the front lobby gate (with the proper I.D.) down 4 floors in the security-coded elevator, past the solid steel door that only opens with a fingerprint, retinal scan and the simultaneous turn of two keys from the armed guards, in a completely secure EM-blocked room stands a huge mainframe supercomputer that is storing hundreds and hundreds of thousands of gigabytes of Dick Jokes.

    1. tessiee

      It's even better than you think, in that really cool James Bond spy movie type music is playing the entire time.

  41. ttommyunger

    Normally, I'm cool with lesbians and vice-versa, but something about this cunt has always made my skin crawl. I'll bet this makes it all the way to her desk.

  42. Gleem_McShineys

    After they stuck a magnetic GPS unit on it, but that is no real legal problem, since it isn't your car.

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