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Biden DHS considering plan to spy on ‘extremist’ Americans online, report says

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on March 10, 2021, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
May 03, 2021

The Biden administration may start using private companies to monitor “extremist” talk from Americans online, expanding government surveillance of U.S. citizens, CNN first reported Monday.

Current laws restrict how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can track Americans online, requiring justification and prohibiting the use of false identities to access private messaging apps. As a result, authorities have been limited to viewing unprotecting information on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as well as other public sites.

Authorities within Biden’s DHS are discussing ways in which they could circumvent the restrictions, including relying on outside entities who are legally allowed to access private groups, multiple sources told CNN.

Partnering with independent research firms could allow the DHS, FBI, CIA and NSA to view information that would be otherwise inaccessible without a warrant or as part of an ongoing investigation.

“There’s a tension between wanting to empower [DHS’s intelligence office] to do this kind of work around domestic terrorism on the one hand and then on the other hand the misuse of its capabilities during the summer of 2020, gives a lot of people on the Hill pause {when it comes to} potentially giving them new authorities, capabilities or resources,” a Senate aide told CNN.

In coordination with the National Security Council and the FBI, officials at the DHS are considering multiple ways to expand the department’s approach to gathering information, the sources said.

“There was only limited awareness before January 6 of what violent extremists were planning through social media,” said Tom Warrick, former DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism Policy.

Warrick said he believes the DHS will likely “explore whether contractors could help them understand plots and trends” online.

“Whatever gets approved and implemented has to comply with established laws,” he added.

One such approach could be to use researchers who are already monitoring activity online as middlemen, CNN reported. However, DHS officials said information gathered in this way would still be limited to broad summaries and analyses without targeting specific people.

The discussions come after months of deadly and destructive riots raged across the United States, including the Capitol Hill protest in which demonstrators breached the Capitol complex.

Many of the protests in 2020 and 2021 have been organized online using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Parler and others. Some of the sites took steps to limit the proliferation of protests online, including Facebook who banned posts and groups from promoting anti-lockdown protests that didn’t comply with government health directives, ABC News reported.