The Department of Homeland Security is building a “warning system” aimed at identifying terrorism threats on public social media posts, NBC News reports.
DHS hopes to prevent an attack similar to the January 6 Capitol riot using a new strategy to gather and analyze intelligence from social media after law enforcement agencies missed obvious threats on the Capitol before the attack.
The system currently uses people rather than algorithms but the “focus is not on the identity of the posters but rather on gleaning insights about potential security threats based on emerging narratives and grievances,” officials told NBC.
"We're not looking at who are the individual posters," said a senior official. "We are looking at what narratives are resonating and spreading across platforms. From there you may be able to determine what are the potential targets you need to protect."
DHS insists its focused on privacy:
"Domestic violent extremism poses the most lethal, persistent terrorism-related threat to our homeland today," DHS spokeswoman Sarah Peck told NBC News, adding that the efforts "are carried out in close coordination with our privacy, civil rights and civil liberties experts and consistent with the law."
Law enforcement agencies are legally allowed to examine any public social media posts but civil liberties groups have expressed concerns about government monitoring of social media. Congress has pressed law enforcement agencies on why they missed the social media chatter leading up to the Capitol riot.
ACLU warns of risks:
Civil liberties groups say such efforts rarely produce actionable intelligence but risk chilling free speech.
"Internal government reviews have repeatedly raised concerns about the usefulness of wide-ranging collection of social media information, but agencies keep barreling forward, wrongly assuming that its benefits must outweigh its costs," ACLU attorney Hugh Handeyside told NBC News. "People say inflammatory stuff on social media, but as an empirical matter, that speech isn't a valid or reliable predictor of violent conduct.”
"When people know that the government is watching, they self-censor,” he added. "That leads to the suppression of ideas and discourse that might be deemed controversial.”