US Army Enhances Surveillance Capabilities to Monitor Social Media

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us army, us government surveillance, us spies, privacy, does us government intelligence army breach privacy, internet data privacy, is us spying on its citizens

The US Army Protective Services Battalion, responsible for safeguarding top military officials, has reportedly expanded its surveillance capabilities to include monitoring social media for threats and identifying negative sentiment towards high-ranking military officers.

According to a procurement document reviewed by US media outlets, the battalion is using sophisticated surveillance tools to detect online threats, locate individuals, and gather publicly available information. This expansion of the battalion’s purview highlights the increasing focus on social media by national security agencies in countering disinformation.

While there may be valid reasons for intruding on someone’s privacy to gather information related to serious crimes or terrorist threats, privacy advocates argue that expressing opinions or forming value judgments, especially about public officials, is a fundamental aspect of democratic society and should not be grounds for surveillance operations. The ability to criticize and express sentiment, whether positive or negative, should not be curtailed by government agencies.

“There may be legally valid reasons to intrude on someone’s privacy by searching for, collecting, and analyzing publicly available information, particularly when it pertains to serious crimes and terrorist threats,” Ilia Siatitsa, program director at Privacy International, told US media. “However, expressing ‘positive or negative sentiment towards a senior high-risk individual’ cannot be deemed sufficient grounds for government agencies to conduct surveillance operations, even going as far as ‘pinpointing exact locations’ of individuals. The ability to express opinions, criticize, make assumptions, or form value judgments — especially regarding public officials — is a quintessential part of democratic society.”

Protective details, such as those provided to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, have faced criticism in the past due to their high costs and questions about necessity. The procurement document reveals that the Protective Services Battalion seeks to acquire tools that can not only detect online threats but also pinpoint their exact locations using various surveillance techniques and data sources.

The document mentions access to social media platforms such as 4Chan, Reddit, YouTube and Vkontakte, as well as internet chat platforms like Discord and Telegram, to identify counterterrorism, counter-extremism, and radicalization. The battalion aims to combine social media data with publicly available and nonpublic information from sources such as CCTV feeds, radio stations, news outlets, personal records, hacked information, webcams, and even cellular location data. The use of “geo-fenced” data and misattribution techniques is also highlighted.

The toolkit described in the document goes beyond what private contractors offer, as it seeks to combine a wide range of surveillance capabilities and disguise the Army’s internet presence. By utilizing “misattribution,” the Army aims to deceive others about its true identity while monitoring the web, including falsifying web browser information and relaying internet traffic through foreign servers.

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The document further reveals that the Army awarded the contract to SEWP Solutions, LLC, a federal software vendor that has previously sold surveillance tools to the Department of Defense. It remains unclear if the tools provided by SEWP are part of the Berber Hunter Tool Kit, which includes software from Babel Street, Echosec, and Zignal Labs, among others. Flashpoint Intel, the parent company of Echosec, was reportedly involved in intelligence work related to protests and infiltrating private chat rooms.

Privacy advocates warn that the unregulated use of open-source intelligence and broad data collection could lead to abuses and interfere with individuals’ right to privacy. As national security agencies increasingly rely on social media monitoring, concerns about the impact on democratic values and civil liberties continue to grow.





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