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Government Invasion of Privacy Essay

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Facebook has become the largest social media site with over 1 billion active users as of September 14, 2012. Of those 1 billion users on average for June 2012, 552 million were considered daily active users. (Potalinski, Oct 4, 2012) The world has gone crazy with social media. The ability to update one’s status on anything that has an internet connection has been enhanced through technological advances in both phones and tablets. The Federal Government deemed it necessary to monitor social sites on October 26, 2001 with the inception of the Patriot Act. The liberties given to the government since the Patriot Act was signed into law has been debated over the potential violation of an individual’s privacy. This author believes the Patriot Act does not violate individual privacy rights.

The individuals violate their own rights by what they post. The Federal Government monitors for potential national security threats through watch words. The Patriot Act affords them this right. An individual has the ability to speak their mind. The Federal Government is only concerned with posts that show potential threats to national security. There have been 50 cases of threats to national security since the Patriot Act’s inception in 2001 that have been stopped. Jason from Austin Texas was questioned and released hours following a seemingly harmless personal opinion post on Facebook. Did the Federal Government overstep the liberties given by the Patriot Act to even question Jason? Let us find out what the research reveals.

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Jason from Austin Texas simply commented on a political post one of his friends had made on Facebook regarding the former Senator Rick Santorum. Jason did not reveal his full name to the reporter Jason Brashear who writes for CivilinWars.com with his story. For the lack of confusion from here on out, the reporter will be noted as Brashear. The comment that got Jason in trouble was “I wish there was a magic wand to make Santorum disappear…” This post was taken directly off of the post thread on February 20, 2012. The Austin Police and two Williamson County Sherriff’s deputies were alerted to the post and tried to locate Jason. After unsuccessfully finding Jason at his work, the officers called Jason and set up a meeting later that evening at Jason’s home.

The officers explained they were there because of a possible threat to Senator Santorum. Jason did not know that Senator Santorum had a visit planned for Austin in the next few days. The visit was far enough in the future from the post for the local law enforcement to be sent to Jason’s house to investigate the potential threat. The officers were there to look around the house for any pictures of the Senator or evidence of anything planned against the Senator. The local authorities deemed that Jason was not a threat and no further action was taken against him.

Jason’s Facebook security settings were set up as private. The private settings mean the posts are treated like a private e-mail amongst friends. (Brashear, Feb 25, 2012) It was the perfect storm for Jason a seemingly harmless post, the subject of the post coming to town in a short time, and the Federal Government monitoring for key words or phrases. The Federal Government only reacted to key words that pinged through their tracking system. The individual privacy rights of Jason were not violated due to the contents of his post and the potential national security risk to the presidential candidate former Senator Santorum.

Jason’s post threw up red flags through the Department of Homeland Security social media monitoring system with the use of one word. Because the post contained the word Santorum, the remaining words became relevant to any investigations that followed. Because the former Senator was a potential presidential candidate for the Republican Party his name became a red flag item for the Department of Homeland Security. Had Jason make the same post, but eliminate the use of Santorum’s name, it is the belief of this author that there would have been no visit from the local authorities. The use of the former Senator’s name on a social media site was the cause of the investigation of Jason by the authorities. It is the Federal Government’s job to assess every potential threat both foreign and domestic.

By Santorum attempting to become the Republican Party’s candidate for President of the United States, he became a potential target for acts of terrorism or violence against that required protection. If the monitoring of social media by the Federal Government was not in place, Jason may have been plotting an attack on former Senator Santorum and executed a plan of attack without notice. It is because of the Patriot Act and the liberties to monitor the world through social media sites that enabled the Federal Government to investigate Jason as a potential threat, make a decision that he was not a threat, and allow him to return to his everyday life. This has not been the case for other potential terrorists after the Patriot Act was signed into law in 2001.

Since the inception of the Patriot Act in October of 2001, 50 potential terrorist plots have been averted. (Carafano, Bucci, Zuckerman, Apr 25, 2012) All 50 of the potential threats vary with how technology aided in the information being obtained by the Federal Government. Every one of the threats were directly affected by the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act is Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Interrupt and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001. (Public Law 107-56, Oct 26, 2001) The Patriot Act deemed it necessary to monitor the changing technological world. It covers everything from national to international threat, banking to social media, and terrorist to good citizen. Through the years the Federal Government has created a buzz word database that generates a “red flag” when seen or heard.

The Department of Homeland Security released a copy of their Analyst’s Desktop Binder in 2011 which houses 337 words or phrases that are considered buzz words. The words or phrases that are contained in the Analyst’s Desktop Binder are considered a baseline or the beginning. This means that at a minimum the 337 words or phrases listed are monitored on a daily basis. Words or phrases are added to and removed from the list on a daily basis. The list is modified based on current events happening. Current events change what may become a target for acts of violence and terrorism. These words are monitored through the Department of Homeland Security’s National Operations Center. The Department of Homeland Security’s website (http://www.dhs.gov/about-office-operations-coordination-and-planning) describes the National Operations Center.

“Through the National Operations Center, the Office provides real-time situational awareness and monitoring of the homeland, coordinates incidents and response activities, and, in conjunction with the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, issues advisories and bulletins concerning threats to homeland security, as well as specific protective measures. The NOC – which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – coordinates information sharing to help deter, detect, and prevent terrorist acts and to manage domestic incidents. Information on domestic incident management is shared with Emergency Operations Centers at all levels through the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN).” The NOC is the monitoring center for the Department of Homeland Security.

They are the responsible for monitoring and communicating potential threats to other agencies within the Federal Government. Most if not all potential threats that are stopped by the Federal Government are a direct result of the NOC monitoring and communication system. The Federal Governments need to monitor the increasing popularity of social media is based on some of the numbers discussed earlier. As of November 19, 2012 there was an estimated 7 billion people in the world. (www.census.gov, November 19, 2012) That means that over 14% of the world’s population are considered active users of Facebook and 7% are active daily users. Active users are individuals that have accounts but may not log on every day.

The active daily user numbers describe an individual logging onto their account each day. If an account holder’s privacy settings are not strict, they have the ability to post anything for anyone to see. Let us think back to Jason for a moment, his security settings were strict and he was questioned by the local authorities for his post. Without the Patriot Act allowing for the monitoring of social media sites like Facebook, Jason’s post would not have been seen by anyone but whom he allows to view his information. The Patriot Act enables Federal Government agencies like NOC to view an individual’s information regardless of the security settings.

On an account holder’s Facebook page, they are invited to post “What’s on your mind” upon first logging on to the site. The individual privacy is compromised when the individual actually writes what is on their mind. If any of the 337 words or phrases are used in a post, e-mail, or blog the NOC will know. The NOC will then notify the appropriate local, state, or national authorities to investigate the potential threat. Jason may have been unfortunate enough to have received a visit from the local authorities, but what if he actually posed a potential threat to the presidential candidate and nothing was done about it?

The Patriot Act and the Federal Government’s need to monitor technology and social media has aided in removing potential harm to the vast majority of our nation. Some may argue that the Patriot violates individual privacy and their right to freedom of speech. This author believes that without the Patriot Act and the liberties granted to the Federal Government to monitor the people of this world through the social media sites like Facebook, there would be a lot more terrorist actions that have succeeded. The Federal Government’s ability to identify and be afforded enough time to react to potential threats through monitoring the social media sites like Facebook has made this country a safer place to live.

Brashear, J, (Feb 25, 2012), Retrieved from: http://www.citizenwars.com/facebook-user-interrogated-authorities-post/ Carafano, J., Bucci, S., Zuckerman, J, (Apr 25, 2012), Retrieved from: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/04/fifty-terror-plots-foiled-since-9-11-the-homegrown-threat-and-the-long-war-on-terrorism Department of Homeland Security, 2011, Analyst’s Desktop Binder, Retrieved from: http://www.dhs.gov Patriot Act, (2001), Retrieved from: http://www.justice.gov/archive/ll/highlights.htm, (Select “Text of the Patriot Act”) Potalinski, E, (Oct 4, 2012), Retrieved from: http://thenextweb.com/facebook/2012/10/04/facebook-hits-1-billion-active-users/

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