The Washington Post reported this week that the FBI is spending $27 million to ramp up the agency’s surveillance of social media. The FBI claims it will only monitor information that is already available and visible to the public at large.
You see, they aren’t doing anything bad. The FBI will only be looking at stuff any of us can look at.
What could possibly go wrong?
Analysis: The FBI has contracted for 5,000 licenses to use Babel X, a software made by Babel Street that lets users search social media sites within a geographic area and use other parameters.https://t.co/tS6SC8yEpI
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) April 5, 2022
“The FBI has contracted for 5,000 licenses to use Babel X, a software made by Babel Street that lets users search social media sites within a geographic area and use other parameters,” the Post reported Tuesday. “The contract began March 30 and is worth as much as $27 million. The FBI has already agreed to pay an IT vendor around $5 million for the first year of the contract, procurement records indicate. The contract has not previously been reported.”
The agency reportedly told contractors to use Babel X to “gather information” from “Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Deep/Dark Web, VK and Telegram.”
These platforms weren’t the only ones on the list. The Post noted (emphasis added), “The FBI listed a slew of ‘preferable’ — but not required — platforms, including 8Kun, Discord, Gab, Parler, Reddit, Snapchat, TikTok and Weibo.”
Republican Congressman Jim Jordan isn’t buying the FBI’s claims:
The FBI is spending millions on social media tracking software.
Does anyone actually believe they'll use it properly?https://t.co/ockvhffmEa
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) April 5, 2022
Jordan told the newspaper that he has “real concerns based on the [FBI’s] history and based on the fact that we don’t know how they’re using it and who they’re going after.”
Jordan’s observation is shared by many civil libertarians.
After all, when rogue National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden told the world that the U.S. government had been using mass surveillance indiscriminately and criminally, countless American government officials and “intel experts” lined up to call him a damn liar.
“The U.S. is not spying on ordinary people” former President Barack Obama assured the nation in 2013 after Snowden’s revelations.
But Snowden was right.
In 2020, a U.S. federal court ruled that the mass surveillance Snowden cited was illegal and that the U.S. intelligence leaders who publicly defended it and defamed the whistleblower were not telling the truth.
American intelligence overstepping bounds to surveil and harass civilian targets is not new.
The FBI specifically once tracked civil rights hero Martin Luther King’s every move. In 2018, the FBI admitted it had spied on former President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
So, we shouldn’t blindly trust that same federal government not to abuse this social media surveillance initiative.
Greg Nojeim is a senior counsel and co-director at the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Security and Surveillance Project. Nojeim told the Post (emphasis original), “Five-thousand licenses for social media monitoring in real time means that thousands of FBI agents will be looking for key words and topics on an ongoing basis with social media surveillance targeting at least eight languages.”
“The risk of misinterpretation is high,” Nojeim stressed. “So is the risk that an FBI agent who misinterpreted what you said on social media will come knocking on your door.”
He added, “It turns out that people dismissed as paranoid because they thought Big Brother was watching everything they say on social media were not paranoid after all.”
We should be concerned anytime our government seeks to further threaten the privacy rights of citizens. Reason and history alike tell us we should be more than concerned with the FBI’s latest plans to keep tabs on us.