Matt Drudge and The Atlantic are hyperventilating, and Mark Hosenball of Reuters is bragging, about what The Atlantic calls an “exclusive” report that DHS “routinely monitors dozens of popular websites, including Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, WikiLeaks and news and gossip sites including the Huffington Post and Drudge Report.”
There are just two problems with this exclusive news report. It isn’t news and it isn’t exclusive.
Readers of this blog could have learned exactly the same thing in one of my posts from, uh, February of 2010.
Here’s what I said two years ago:
With his usual nudge-and-wink, Matt Drudge invites us to be dismayed that “BIG SIS” — his moniker for Janet Napolitano — is “Monitoring Web Sites for Terror and Disaster Info.” Drudge links to a story saying that DHS will be monitoring social media like Twitter, as well as websites like Drudge, to keep abreast of events during the Winter Olympics. The source of the story is a twelve-page “Privacy Impact Assessment” issued by DHS.
This isn’t the first Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) on DHS’s use of social media. A few weeks earlier, DHS wrote a similar assessment of using social media during Haitian rescue operations.
I am indeed dismayed, but not for Drudge’s reasons. True, it’s disappointing that neither the Volokh Conspiracy nor www.skatingonstilts.com is deemed worthy of government monitoring. But what’s really dismaying is that DHS and its Privacy Office felt obliged to labor over two separate and painfully obvious privacy assessments just to do things that you and I would do by simply firing up our browsers.
That’s it. The story is that people at DHS are, gasp, browsing the Internet. As I said then, there’s no scandal, other than the electrons wasted by DHS agonizing over the privacy implications of browsing Internet sources to find out what’s happening in the world. And if it was a nonstory in February of 2010, what does that make it in January of 2012?
Actually, it's a lesson -- that both the mainstream media and the blogosphere are doggedly overreporting anything that could be deemed a privacy violation by government, especially DHS. If you only followed these things casually, you’d be sure that DHS was constantly violating Americans’ rights, and reports like this would be a key bit of evidence. But when you give the “story” a little scrutiny, all you find is an agency that needs to know what’s happening in an emergency and that is looking at public social media sites for information, just like the rest of us. There’s no privacy issue there at all, despite the heavy breathing and the headlines.
Kind of makes you wonder how many more phony privacy violations you’ve been conned into believing, huh?
UPDATE: Mark Hosenball of Reuters says that he never called his report an exclusive, since he knew about the 2010 assessment; the "exclusive" label was applied by The Atlantic, not Hosenball. I changed the first line to avoid tagging him with the statement.