Ever wonder if the government is watching you? Well, odds are fairly good Big Brother has at one point or another.

The Department of Homeland Security has released a list of hundreds of keywords and phrases that are used to monitor the Internet.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, documents were released revealing how analysts watch the web for comments that are "critical information requirements," or CIR for short according to the department's 2011 Analysts' Desktop Binder. An intriguing little bit being the fourth CIR stipulation: "Identifying media reports that reflect adversely on Homeland Security and response activities."

That boils down to the things you might type on Facebook or Twitter or your blog or any of the other social media outlets online.

While this might appear hunky-dory when looked at from the perspective of protecting the country, there are a few hitches.

For instance, you might expect the government to search for the following: dirty bomb, suicide attack, weapons cache and jihad. But do you expect the following to appear as a trigger for concern: home grown, pirates, target and attack?

Yes, all of those words can be included in what could be dangerous or problematic instances toward the protection of the United States, but those words — and many, many others you will notice after reading the list — make up a fair deal of sentences you read or type whenever you are on the Internet.

Think about the following message you might type on a friend's Facebook wall after a Halloween evening of bar-hopping: "We dressed as pirates and slammed car bombs until I had a black out. I found out I took a leak on the subway. That wasn't smart" — pirates, car bombs, black out, leak, subway and smart are all watched words.

Yes, those words need to be paired with other words in given situations for any action to be taken — to prevent potential threats, rather than checking for who is bitching about the government — but that isn't what should be giving you a real fright. What you should be wondering is how the government is monitoring your posts, tweets and emails in the first place.

Does the government have access through some deal or another to all of your personal information through companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and the like? I cannot see any other way to monitor the Internet, so I'm guessing there is a deal. Note there is no statement stating the truth or not of that guess, but think about it for yourself.

Maybe you don't mind being monitored when it is for a greater good. I really want to believe that if the government is looking into the folks of America's private information that that information will not be used for other purposes than keeping us safe. But then I start to wonder about the constitutionality of it all and the tendency for some in power to abuse information and use it for purposes not originally intended, and I get that Big Brother feeling again.

"A senior Homeland Security official told the Huffington Post that the manual 'is a starting point, not the endgame' in maintaining situational awareness of natural and man-made threats and denied that the government was monitoring signs of dissent. However the agency admitted that the language used was vague and in need of updating. Spokesman Matthew Chandler told the website: 'To ensure clarity, as part of ... routine compliance review, Homeland Security will review the language contained in all materials to clearly and accurately convey the parameters and intention of the program,'" according to an article in Mail Online.

Well, glad to hear the methods in place are "vague and in need of updating." And what does "review the language contained in all materials" really entail? Does "all materials" really mean everything the department has access to on the Internet? That seems mighty invasive.

All in all, this might just be nothing to be concerned about. Maybe the methods will be updated and the list of keywords will only become a fun game for Facebook posters to see who can make a sentence using the most of the watched words. But as of now, the possibility of being looked into for potential risk appears to be a reality. I guess everyone should have read their user agreements for website posting a little more carefully.

For a full run-down of the words in question, go to section 2.13 Key Words & Search Terms of the Analysts' Desktop Binder: http://scr.bi/zXGB2e

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steve-gregg
Steve Gregg

Contrary to what panicky lefty editors at the Daily proclaim, the government is not reading your email. However, it is using computers to mine for words used by the bad guys on social networking sites and online media, ie public media. Your private email is still private. Your public websites are fair game for anyone to read and analyze.

Wannabe jihadis tend to be stoopid and are likely to write their violent aspirations on online chat rooms where like-minded Muslim imbeciles are likely to read them. Many a jihadi has been caught this way. Some private citizens hunt jihadis on chat rooms as a hobby and turn them over to the authorities.

Much of the international telecommunications traffic comes through the big switches in the US. Such communication, being foreign in origin, is not protected by the Constitution and is thoroughly searched by supercomputers of the NSA for words and phrases used by jihadis plotting terror. That has worked splendidly as well.

The reason to search for words like "Al Qaeda" and "car bomb" is self evident. Other words are less obvious, like "pork" and "swine," which are used by racist Muslim terrorists as code for white people, their intended victims.

Reasonable people might conclude that seaching information made public to identify terrorists and stop them before they kill anyone, well, maybe that's a good idea. Unfortunately, no reasonable people work for the Iowa State Daily, which maintains a nearly perfect opposition to any action that could thwart terrorists from striking America. Why?

gabriel-stoffa
Gabriel Stoffa

Just to clarify, I'm not a lefty. But as to:

"Reasonable people might conclude that seaching information made public to identify terrorists and stop them before they kill anyone, well, maybe that's a good idea. Unfortunately, no reasonable people work for the Iowa State Daily, which maintains a nearly perfect opposition to any action that could thwart terrorists from striking America. Why?"

What actions are being opposed in articles that would thwart terrorists? I/m not doubting that those articles exist, only asking for the direction to some of those articles so I can read up.

The question of public information is still an unknown quantity when it comes to the Internet for lack of full legal ruling on social media and whatnot as private of public; a big issue in workplaces regarding bosses asking for access to employees pages. Also, government officials have read personal emails stored on Google and Hotmail and the like thanks to the Stored Communications Act; though that was later ruled unconstitutional. Nevertheless, that demonstrates that government officials are willing to use whatever loophole they can find in privacy law to dig into a person. Even if this is for the good of our country, I have a problem with Constitutional over-reaching.

steve-gregg
Steve Gregg

Gabriel,

In previous columns, you have supported Occupy Wall Street and marijuana use. In previous posts, you have claimed that conservatives are inherently racist and that Americans are too consumerist. Those sound like lefty positions, don't you agree?

Reading public websites is hardly government intrusion any more than when the government reads local papers or TV. This is public information, not private information.

Jihadis are not born overnight. They evolve. Many tend to be chatty as they evolve and make displays of bonding with their radical Muslim community. They show up in community websites, Facebook, chat sites, YouTube, et al. Then, when they commit to violent jihad, they tend to disappear from public view, although some can't resist maintaining a residual public presence.

Reviewing and analyzing such public info can identify radical cells and the jihadis in them. Perhaps you've noticed how many wannabe jihadis are set up by FBI sting operations. Very often, the FBI finds them because they brag about their jihad on the Internet on a public site. They're that stupid.

When you mischaracterize such public monitoring as an violation of privacy, it's an attempt to disable our defenses against terrorists. The correct thing to do is to exploit everything that radical Muslims publish on the net and use it to defeat their plots to kill innocent people.