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US lawmakers call for monitoring of social media sites

Reuters, Washington

Leaders of a US congressional subcommittee are urging the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to extensively monitor social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to detect “current or emerging threats.”

The top Republican and Democrat on a House of Representatives counter-terrorism subcommittee last month sent a letter to DHS’ intelligence chief encouraging department analysts to pore over huge streams of social media traffic.

US representatives Patrick Meehan and Jackie Speier said in the letter to Caryn Wagner, undersecretary of homeland security for intelligence and analysis, that they “believe it would be advantageous for DHS and the broader intelligence community to carefully parse the massive streams of data from various social media outlets to identify current or emerging threats to our homeland security.”

Meehan, a Republican, is chairperson of the Homeland Security Committee’s counter-terrorism and intelligence subcommittee. Speier is the panel’s ranking Democrat.

The two lawmakers said such monitoring raises “privacy and civil liberties concerns” and suggested that the department issue guidelines that balance citizens’ rights with the ability of analysts to identify threats.

Earlier this week, DHS’ National Operations Center published a list of Web sites that they monitor for “situational awareness.”

In an e-mail, Meehan said a hearing he had convened last month had “examined the evolving terrorist use of social media and effective intelligence and law enforcement responses.”

Matthew Chandler, a DHS spokesperson, said the department’s operations center monitors social media only “within the clearly defined parameters articulated” in published department privacy guidelines.

Among Web sites on the center’s favorites list were social media such as Twitter and Facebook; video and photo sharing sites such as Hulu, Youtube and Flickr; news and gossip sites such as Huffington Post and Drudge Report; and sites such as Cryptome and WikiLeaks.

Maureen Keith, a spokesperon for Meehan, said the lawmakers’ letter, dated Dec. 16, had not been previously released.

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