370 Words: Tweet at Your Own Risk

Department of Homeland Security is trolling you for ‘Items of Interest.’

U.S. Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano (R): "I think everyone has acknowledged that serious mistakes were made." (Photo: Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Feb 28, 2012
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

Although no sentient being will be surprised, details of how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) scours the Internet for suspect tweets and status updates is still disturbing news among Internet privacy holdouts.

The trolling is conducted by the DHS’s National Operations Center, which, in the words of the department’s website: "Provides real-time situational awareness and monitoring of the homeland … and issues advisories and bulletins concerning threats to homeland security, as well as specific protective measures."

A sensitive virtual citizen may feel a twinge of violation.

Rest assured, the NOC operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Even if you post a MySpace update every third Tuesday at 3:00 a.m., some combination of software, robot and government-hired contractor is sifting your relationship crises and cat photos to detect and deter terrorist acts. A sensitive virtual citizen may feel a twinge of violation. But, really, that invasive shiver is a small sacrifice in the light of the DHS’s mission to keep American airliners from being boarded by homicidal ideologues with explosives hidden in their shoes and underwear.

Patriotic unity of purpose aside, no free citizen wants to be flagged as an Item of Interest (IOI) due to an ill-advised tweet, detained at a boarding gate, stripped, locked in a holding cell and deported—like some randy Englishman headed to a Hollywood bacchanal vacay.

The Brit’s humiliation need not be yours. Animal New York and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) have uncovered a Homeland Security document that lists 370 terms that figure into its algorithm for airline-borne threats to domestic tranquility.

The Item-of-Interest triggers begin on page 20 of this DHS PDF. You may not have enough time to read the complete list. Just know that it’s traveling dangerously to Tweet “Metro service disruption and weapons grade diaper leak; running late for LAX” before arriving at the airport to fly home to present Mom and Dad with their new grandchild.

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