Homeland Security Releases Spying Keyword List Due to FOIA Lawsuit

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The Department of Homeland Security has been forced to release a list of keywords and phrases it uses to monitor social networking sites and online media for signs of alleged foreign or domestic threats of terrorism.

The list was posted online by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy watchdog group which obtained the document after filing a lawsuit as a followup to a Freedom of Information Act request.

In a letter to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counter-terrorism and Intelligence, the group criticized the choice of search words on a legal basis as “broad, vague and ambiguous.”

The list includes obvious words such as “attack,” “Al Qaeda,” “terrorism” and “dirty bomb” along with dozens of seemingly innocent words like “pork,” “cloud,” “team” and “Mexico.”

The information sheds light on how government analysts and computer software troll the internet searching for potential domestic and foreign threats.

The words are included in the Department of Homeland Security’s 2011 Analyst’s Desktop Binder used by workers at the National Operations Center to identify “media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities.”

The department was forced to release the manual following a U.S. House hearing over documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, which revealed how analysts monitor social networks and media organisations for comments that “reflect adversely” on the government. Department leaders testified that the practice was aimed not at policing the internet for disparaging remarks about the government and signs of general dissent, but to provide awareness of any potential threats.

In addition to watching out for potential “terrorism,” analysts are instructed to search for evidence of unfolding natural disasters, public health threats and serious crimes such as school shootings, drug dealing and illegal immigration.

Here is the complete word and phrase list released in the EPIC lawsuit.

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© 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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