British Tourists Arrested in the U.S. for Tweeting
Does this story make sense to anyone?
The Department of Homeland Security flagged him as a potential threat when he posted an excited tweet to his pals about his forthcoming trip to Hollywood which read: ‘Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America’.
After making their way through passport control at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) last Monday afternoon the pair were detained by armed guards.
Despite telling officials the term ‘destroy’ was British slang for ‘party’, they were held on suspicion of planning to ‘commit crimes’ and had their passports confiscated.
There just as to be more than this story. The DHS isn’t monitoring the Tweets of random British tourists—they just can’t be.
EDITED TO ADD (1/30): According to DHS documents received by EPIC, the DHS monitors the Internet, including social media.
In February 2011, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the agency planned to implement a program that would monitor media content, including social media data. The proposed initiatives would gather information from “online forums, blogs, public websites, and messages boards” and disseminate information to “federal, state, local, and foreign government and private sector partners.” The program would be executed, in part, by individuals who established fictitious usernames and passwords to create covert social media profiles to spy on other users. The agency stated it would store personal information for up to five years.
The records reveal that the DHS is paying General Dynamics to monitor the news. The agency instructed the company to monitor for “[media] reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government, DHS, or prevent, protect, respond government activities.”
The DHS instructed the company to “Monitor public social communications on the Internet.” The records list the websites that will be monitored, including the comments sections of [The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, Wired, and ABC News.]”
Still, I have trouble believing that this is what happened. For this to work General Dynamics would have had to monitor Twitter for key words. (“Destroy America” is certainly a good key word to search for.) Then, they would have to find out the real name associated with the Twitter account—unlike Facebook or Google+, Twitter doesn’t have real name information—so the TSA could cross-index that name with the airline’s passenger manifests. Then the TSA has to get all this information into the INS computers, so that the border control agent knows to detain him. Sure, it sounds straightforward, but getting all those computers to talk to each other that fast isn’t easy. There has to be more going on here.
EDITED TO ADD (1/30): One reader points out that this story is from the Daily Mail, and that it’s prudent to wait for some more reputable news source to report the story.
EDITED TO ADD (1/30): There’s another story from The Register, but they’re just using the Daily Mail.
EDITED TO ADD (1/30): The FBI is looking for someone to build them a system that can monitor social networks.
The information comes from a document released on 19 January looking for companies who might want to build a monitoring system for the FBI. It spells out what the bureau wants from such a system and invites potential contractors to reply by 10 February.
The bureau’s wish list calls for the system to be able to automatically search “publicly available” material from Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites for keywords relating to terrorism, surveillance operations, online crime and other FBI missions. Agents would be alerted if the searches produce evidence of “breaking events, incidents, and emerging threats.”
Agents will have the option of displaying the tweets and other material captured by the system on a map, to which they can add layers of other data, including the locations of US embassies and military installations, details of previous terrorist attacks and the output from local traffic cameras.
EDITED TO ADD (1/30): New reports are saying that customs was tipped off about the two people, and their detention was not a result of data mining:
“Based on information provided by the LAX Port Authority Infoline—a suspicious activity tipline—CBP conducted a secondary interview of two subjects presenting for entry into the United States,” says the spokesperson, who notes that the CBP “denies entry to thousands of individuals” each year. “Information gathered during this interview revealed that both individuals were inadmissible to the United States and were returned to their country of residence.”
This makes a lot more sense to me.