Trump's Spy Machine Stalking Twitter For 'Insurrection'

The Trump administration is scraping social media in order to spy on anti-Trump protests, but that's not all! Curiously vague updates to the new defense doctrine give the military more authority to act in the event of "emergencies," like an insurrection or an invasion of taco trucks. With such broad tools you'd think a definitely not racist person like Trump might find a way to stop a mass murder or two.

Motherboard reports that when the Trump administration took office it inherited a fancy new computer to spy on the social media of Not America. It didn't take long for someone to wonder if it could be used to spy on all the communists who didn't vote for Trump. The Army cut some nerds a check to follow the 2016 post-election protests, like at the inauguration, the airport protests, and the Women's March. They found that whenever people wear their pink pussy hats and march in the streets they usually post a lot on social media. The report concluded that by cyber stalking social networks, you can predict the likelihood of violent protests.

After realizing what neat little toys the Obama administration had been cooking up, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) took its social media spy machine, called Embers, and moved it to the private sector. Safely hidden from the prying eyes of pesky FOIAs, the Trump administration can simply pay someone else do the legally dubious and dirty work of spying on Americans.

Mass surveillance programs are sketchy even under normal circumstances, but the Trump administration has been pushing the limits of the surveillance and military authority. Updates to the homeland defense doctrine let the military coordinate with other agencies and private contractors -- which would be fine if the administration wasn't shrinking the chain of command and expanding the role of the military. Law enforcement agencies already suck up gigabytes of information on innocent people through Peter Thiel's evil spy machine, Palantir. And while Facebook might not sell your data, companies like Cambridge Analytica can certainly get access for their own nefarious purposes. As members of Trump's 2016 campaign are aware, the government can't spy on US citizens without a really good reason, but it's not really illegal to get data from a third party who just sucks up everything about you on the internet.

Local cops use social media to spy on people all the time. The Memphis police used social media to spy on Black Lives Matter activists, as have police departments in Chicago and Boston. In September the ACLU sued various federal agencies for spying on Keystone XL protesters at Standing Rock. About a week later, the Massachusetts State Police accidentally tweeted a photo that showed they were monitoring left-leaning activist groups on Facebook. A senior staff attorney for the ACLU's National Security Project tells Motherboard, "This kind of technology-enabled surveillance of social media will likely suppress dissent and lead to biased targeting of racial and religious minorities. We need to know much more about any proposed policies or programs and their effect on rights that the Constitution protects."

What we DO know about the new defense policies is kind of scary. The new "homeland defense" in itself is just weird since the military isn't usually focused on the "homeland." The policy says the military has an obligation to gather and coordinate information with various agencies. There's also updates to the military's Rules of Engagement, the Use of Force, and even a provision that allows the president to use the military to "suppress insurrection against state authority, to enforce federal laws, or suppress rebellion."

Why might the Trump administration be pulling some Nixonian bullshit by spying on protest groups? Who knows! But the Military Times reports soldiers being sent to the border are being briefed on the new ROE, and told to look out for roving bands of vigilantes and drugs cartels, as well as far-left and far-right protesters. Good thing we updated that "homeland defense" policy!

With all this new power to spy on people via social media, you'd think Trump might tell his long, flabby arm of the law to stop a domestic terrorist or two. Saturday's mass shooting in Pittsburgh proved the rise of anti-Semitic threats on social media is having deadly consequences, and it's infuriating to think that the military and/or law enforcement agencies had technology that could have prevented it. Then again, there's an election coming up, and every vote counts.

[Motherboard / ADL / Military Times]

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Dominic Gwinn

Dominic is a broke journalist in Chicago. You can find him in a dirty bar talking to weirdos, or in a gutter taking photos.


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