The Biden administration is reportedly considering working with private firms to monitor “extremist chatter by Americans online” because of limitations as to what the federal government itself can do without a warrant.
The federal government is banned from using fake identities in order to gain access to private groups and messaging apps but is allowed to scan social media profiles, according to a CNN report.
“The plan being discussed inside DHS, according to multiple sources, would, in effect, allow the department to circumvent” laws that limit what the federal government can do in surveilling citizens without a warrant, CNN reported. “A source familiar with the effort said it is not about decrypting data but rather using outside entities who can legally access these private groups to gather large amounts of information that could help DHS identify key narratives as they emerge.”
The report claims that the Biden administration is considering using private firms to “act as middlemen” to obtain information that would consist of “broad summaries or analysis of narratives that are emerging on these sites” and would not “target specific individuals.” However, some firms create fake identities to access private social media spaces which the government can’t access.
“Gathering information on US citizens — no matter how abhorrent their beliefs — raises instant constitutional and legal challenges,” the report added. “Civil liberties advocates and privacy hawks have long criticized any efforts to collect even publicly available information on Americans in bulk as a violation of Americans’ First and Fourth Amendment rights.”
The report was condemned by both sides of the political spectrum, including former intelligence officials.
Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows responded: “They spied on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and skated by with no consequences… and now they want to spy on you too. This is a chilling, terrible idea that should be roundly rejected.”
“The government outsourcing warrantless domestic spying of American citizens to outside corporations doesn’t make it any less dangerous, unconstitutional or illegal,” political strategist Andrew Surabian wrote. “Do any pols have the courage to stand up to an increasingly lawless & authoritarian national security state?”