DHS wants Internet users to work as government spies

The Department of Homeland Security is in the process of ramping up spending on its Orwellian “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign to encourage more members of the public to report to government agents anything they may deem “suspicious” activity on the Web.

According to federal budget documents published last week, DHS is planning to spend in excess of $1 million on an online campaign of public service announcements modeled on the See Something/Say Something campaigns the government first rolled out in New York City following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

In an explanation of the spending, DHS says the Internet campaign “will look to raise public and private sector awareness of cybersecurity and to emphasize the importance of cyber awareness and information safekeeping.”

The DHS’s original appeal for Americans to spy on one another in public has come under criticism in recent years after a series of reports revealed that the program increases public paranoia but has done little to stop actual terror plots.

In 2012 Harvey Molotch, an NYU sociologist who wrote the book Against Security, detailed a few of the program’s problems in an interview with New York Magazine.

“There have been no people stopped from doing an act of terror, there have been no people charged with terror through the informants that have come forward,” Molotch said at the time.

Instead, the sociologist noted, the program created a massive increase of false reports of terror activity for things that were unusual but completely harmless.

“We have everything,” Molotch said. “People lugging their art project around with wires sticking out, people who indeed look Islamic operating counting machines to count their prayers in Islam as they go.”

If New York’s transit authority acted on all the tips it got through the program, he predicted,” The subway system would come to a halt.”

So why would federal officials want to extend the unsuccessful campaign to the digital realm?

In an era where government is increasingly looking for ways to clamp down on online free speech, the digital See Something/Say Something effort may simply be a new effort to harass government critics in the U.S.

The DHS has increasingly targeted people on the political right as potential sources of anti-government extremism. For example, a 10-page report released by the agency in 2009 titled, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” Within the report, DHS officials warned that Americans worried about the increasing size and cost of government could potentially be radicalized to carry out acts of terror against the state.

And just last year, the Obama administration appointed a new “czar” to focus on “domestic terrorism.”

As Bob Livingston noted in October:

Now the Obama (no)Justice Department has created a new domestic terrorism czar and whole department to battle the newest greatest threat — behind nonexistent global warming — to America: the white Christian male gun-owning liberty lover. The new department is the evolution of a Department of a Homeland Security program begun in 2009 targeting liberty-loving Americans. That program morphed into a training program in 2013 that instructed local law enforcement to devote extra scrutiny to Christians who believe the Bible is God’s word, Christian “fundamentalists” (whatever those are), Americans who believe the country was founded on godly principles and those who believe the Constitution stands as the law of the land. In training materials, DHS has lumped Christians and Constitutionalists in with a group it calls the sovereign citizen movement, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi skinheads, and identified them as requiring special surveillance by law enforcement.

Time will tell how the DHS’s online See Something/Say Something will factor in to the government’s desire to chill conservative free speech.

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