The Department of Homeland Security is planning to contract with a service that would track 300,000 news sources around the wold to help track “media influencers.” A media organization wonders if the effort will be used to exclude journalists or activists on ideological grounds.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is seeking to contract with a “media monitoring” service that would track almost 300,000 news sources globally, in more than 100 languages. DHS wants the ability to track “media influencers,” to query the database for all coverage related to DHS or “a particular event” and to follow social media conversations. The desired database would also be able to categorize coverage by “sentiment,” reports the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, quoting Bloomberg Law. Many are concerned, in light of the Trump administration’s denigration of “fake news” and fear that the president would seek to misuse various levers of power such as merger review or “leaks” investigations against perceived enemies in the press.
While the public and private sector routinely use media relations databases to track coverage and identify press opportunities, if used for other purposes or if integrated into law enforcement or intelligence databases, this may still be in the realm of Orwell, says the Reporters Committee. The solicitation was issued not by the main press office at DHS, but by a component that is actively engaged in the business of national security—the National Programs and Protection Directorate (NPPD). The directorate is the main civilian cybersecurity authority. It is responsible for coordinating with the private sector to secure critical infrastructure, and has an “all-hazards” analysis office that provides intelligence to DHS leadership on cyber threats. The Reporters Committee questions whether the database will be used to exclude journalists or activists on ideological grounds. While brazen ideological exclusion would violate the First Amendment, the database could be used in more subtle ways to retaliate against critics of the administration, says the committee.