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DHS wanted to give ‘risk scores’ to social media users, per documents.

Department of Homeland Security Sought to Assign “Risk Scores” to Social Media Users

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had a plan to assign “risk scores” to social media users as part of an initiative called “Night Fury.” The goal was to develop a methodology for identifying potential criminal or terrorist activity by combing through social media posts and content.

The data collected under the program included social media posts, photos, and videos.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) ruled that sufficient safeguards had not been put in place on the program to respect the privacy of American citizens.

In 2018, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) reached out to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to develop automated processes to identify potential pro-terrorist social media accounts and open Facebook groups where pro-terrorist accounts interact. The program was also considered for combating opioid and human trafficking.

Identifying Pro-Terrorist Thought

The information collected was largely gathered via algorithms and emphasized activity on Facebook and Twitter. The algorithms were intended to detect “terrorist propaganda” and “identify key influencers of pro-terrorist thought.”

DHS’s contract with the University of Alabama cost taxpayers nearly $790,000.

The OIG published a report in March 2022 that mentioned Night Fury after being advised of potential privacy violations. The report ruled that DHS S&T had failed to maintain proper oversight of research projects with contractors, including in the case of the Night Fury initiative.

Weaponization Concerns

The discovery of the Night Fury initiative comes amid continuing concerns about the ways that federal law enforcement agencies have allegedly abused their authority. DHS itself came under fire in April 2022 for its formation of a “Disinformation Governance Board,” a DHS panel allegedly designed to combat misinformation.

The creation of the panel led to a series of comparisons to George Orwell’s “1984” among critics and was ultimately dissolved a few months later after a backlash.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI have also faced allegations of misusing their authority. A report released in 2021 found that the FBI had used one of its surveillance authorities—Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)—to data harvest more than 3.3 million Americans without a warrant, including a member of Congress.

Since then, the FBI has reportedly reduced FISA violations by 90 percent. But this still leaves hundreds of thousands of illegal queries.

Conclusion

The Night Fury initiative raises concerns about the government’s use of social media data and the potential for abuse of power. It is important for citizens to be aware of these initiatives and hold their government accountable for protecting their privacy and civil liberties.



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