On January 8 we reported on a summit between top federal officials and the giants of social media in San Jose, California.
The talks between the government and Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft centered on the use of social media to recruit terrorists and, according to CNN, “find potential agents, inspire them to become violent, and coordinate attacks.”
On Wednesday The Intercept posted a White House briefing document on the January 12 meeting.
According to the briefing the feds want to “explore ways to more quickly and comprehensively identify terrorist content online so that online service providers can remove it if it violates their terms of service.”
The government suggested developing an algorithm similar to one used by Facebook to detect and prevent possible suicides.
“Are there other areas where online providers have used technology to identify harmful content and remove it? … Something like Facebook’s suicide process flow?” the document states.
The Intercept notes developing effective software for such an effort would be virtually impossible.
“Many believe that data mining is the crystal ball that will enable us to uncover future terrorist plots. But even in the most wildly optimistic projections, data mining isn’t tenable for that purpose,” the cryptologist Bruce Schneier writes.
“Something as unique and rare as terrorism—that’s what makes this different from credit card fraud,” Schneier told The Intercept.
Schneier said false-positives resulting from an effort to detect terrorists online would be enormous.
It’s Not Just Muslims the Feds Want to Target
If implemented the effort to find precrime terrorists online would not be limited to Muslims. The federal government is also interested in denying internet access and possibly entrapping “right-wing sovereign citizen extremists” and others it considers more dangerous than Islamic fanatics.
In 2014 the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), a University of Maryland project funded by the Department of Homeland Security, designated the so-called sovereign citizen movement as the number one domestic terrorist threat in America.
Sovereign citizens do not constitute a cohesive movement, although the government characterizes them as such. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates around 100,000 Americans were “hard-core sovereign believers” in 2010 and an additional 200,000 were “just starting out by testing sovereign techniques for resisting everything from speeding tickets to drug charges.”
The SPLC works with the DHS to formulate the terrorist threat posed by citizens allegedly belonging to the sovereign citizen movement.
In addition to so-called sovereign citizens the government has categorized constitutionalists as potential terrorists.
In 2010 a Department of Justice guide for investigators of criminal and extremist groups listed “constitutionalists” and “survivalists” alongside organizations like al-Qaeda and the Aryan Brotherhood.
The Department of Homeland Security funded a study in 2012 that characterized Americans “suspicious of centralized federal authority,” and “reverent of individual liberty” as “extreme right-wing” terrorists.
“While largely omitting Islamic terrorism—the report fails completely to mention the 1993 World Trade Center bombing—the study focuses on Americans who hold beliefs shared by the vast majority of conservatives and libertarians and puts them in the context of radical extremism,” writes Paul Joseph Watson.
In 2009 the DHS came under criticism when an internal document on the supposed threat of rightwing extremism came to light. The “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” document produced during the Bush administration portrays anti-government groups as dangerous and potentially violent terrorists.
There are hundreds of thousands of groups and individuals on Facebook and Twitter that would be characterized by the feds as terrorist for opposing various government policies.
It is unclear if the algorithm suggested at the San Jose summit will be limited to Muslims or if it will used against all groups and individuals the federal government considers terrorists, including constitutionalists, antiwar activists, crypto-anarchists and dozens of other political classifications.