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By Dr. Harold Pease

Last week a young college student approached me after class with a very disturbing concern. He had just been interrogated by the FBI for making a video three years ago of him exploding a fire cracker and placing the video on YouTube for others to see. He thought that it would be funny. During the three years since, and unbeknownst to him, the government had been monitoring his every behavior and presented to him, for his perusal, a file an inch thick of every event in his life including his grades from grade school.

If kids are monitored for such normal behavior (I used to set off fire crackers too but I did not put it on the Internet) what can we expect next from our government which now violates the 4th Amendment to the Constitution with impunity? Monitoring our social media 24 hours a day? A new directive suggests that this is now to be common.

The National Operations Center (NOC), a part of The Department of Homeland Security, recently released its Media Monitoring Initiative giving itself permission to “gather, store, analyze, and disseminate” data on millions of users of social media, primarily Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. So far they appear less concerned with the information of the average Joe or Jane, although all is kept just in case, as they do with unmanaged journalists and bloggers. These are defined as “those who use “traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed,” such as myself. Targeted are those who post articles, comments, or other information to popular Web outlets.

In a recent article entitled “Social Spying,” by Joe Wolverton II, J.D. in the “New American,” Wolverton details the “24-hour surveillance” by NOC agents “to track the on-line movements and postings of every level of writer or commentator, from Brian Williams to nearly anonymous bloggers.” The directive is designed “to provide situational awareness and establish a common operating picture” (what ever that means) presumably of targeted audiences. In layman’s terms it means identifying, isolating, and then potentially silencing opposition, each of which inhibits First Amendment free speech rights.

Of course, the NOC directive denies inappropriate use of the information. All is public, they argue, and gathered through available search engines. That said, they admit looking for “items of potential interest [not defined] to DHS. Once the analysts determine an item or event is of sufficient value [also not defined] to DHS to be reported, they extract only the pertinent [again, not defined], authorized information and put it into a specific web application… to build and format their reports.” Such vagaries allow an unrestrained government to move and operate anywhere it pleases and classify and reclassify citizens as potential enemies even if they have done nothing other than voice opinion in opposition to that of whoever rules.

Are we becoming more like communist China who recently prosecuted Li Tie and two others for essays posted on the Internet demanding greater democracy? They too began with just monitoring. Such postings are considered a threat to China’s political and social stability.
In light of the recently signed National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, this reclassification could eventually get normal citizens classed as threats to political stability, who just wish to preserve their Constitution from a government which chooses to nullify it, placed in Guantanamo Bay and held indefinitely against their will. But I have already written about this new law—the most dangerous piece of legislation in my lifetime.

The Media Monitoring Initiative is a serious violation of the 4th Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution which reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searched and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Do we care? If a young college student finds it disturbing that the government has been watching what he puts on YouTube, should not older adults be more so? Are you, my reader, going to wait until all the sentinels of liberty are marginalized or are you going to remove your member of Congress that supports either the National Defense Authorization Act or does not use his influence to rescind the Media Monitoring Initiative. At least demand to know where he or she stands on these two important Constitutional issues.

Dr. Harold Pease is an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 25 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, please visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org