US Intelligence may partner with private firms to monitor “extremist chatter” online
The Biden administration is considering using outside firms to track extremist chatter by Americans online, an effort that would expand the government’s ability to gather intelligence but could draw criticism over surveillance of US citizens. The Department of Homeland Security is limited in how it can monitor citizens online without justification and is banned from activities like assuming false identities to gain access to private messaging apps used by extremist groups such as the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers. Instead, federal authorities can only browse through unprotected information on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and other open online platforms. A source familiar with the effort said it is not about decrypting data but rather using outside entities who can legally access these private groups to gather large amounts of information that could help DHS identify key narratives as they emerge. The plan being discussed inside DHS, according to multiple sources, would, in effect, allow the department to circumvent those limits.
Even as the DHS eyes a more robust use of its intelligence authorities, it continues to face fierce scrutiny on Capitol Hill over its handling of the Portland protests last summer — raising the possibility that at least some lawmakers will push back on the effort. The department — then led by Trump appointees but staffed by career officials, some of whom remain on the job — collected and disseminated open source reports on U.S. journalists who were publicly reporting on the protests.