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The Pentagon Scans Social Media To Prevent “Embarrassment” of Generals

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Generals are probably among the last people you’d expect to have thin (social media) skin. Nevertheless – here we are.

In the US, the secret service of the Pentagon (Department of Defense) is tasked with protecting top military personnel on many fronts (reasonable ones such as assassination, kidnapping, etc.) – but also, no less than from “embarrassment.”

And it isn’t just any “embarrassment” that the Protective Services Battalion is trying to nullify and keep military leaders “safe” from – it’s what a report from The Intercept describes as “mean tweets” that the unit is fighting against – while ostensibly also dealing with actual threats.

A US military procurement document dated September of last year details what exactly the Protective Services Battalion is looking for as its members scour the internet: not merely threats – be they direct, indirect – and even, veiled – but also, “negative sentiment.”

Once again – what essentially comes down to shielding top brass from criticism – is seen as yet another instance of the across-the-board focus on online “disinformation” that the US authorities have become positively obsessed with.

But when it comes to the Battalion’s Twitter battles against “negative sentiment” – i.e., freely expressed opinions about high-ranking officials (military or otherwise) – how exactly does that work in harmony with a functioning democracy?

Not well, some privacy advocates are saying. Privacy comes into play here because in order to perform the duty of monitoring the web for “mean tweets” and such, the Battalion is searching and collecting people’s, albeit publicly available information – but also being able to find out their exact location.

Speaking for the Intercept, Privacy International’s Ilia Siatitsa said that unlike real threats – things like “sentiments” of various kinds expressed about top officials “cannot be deemed sufficient grounds for government agencies to conduct surveillance operations.”

In addition to the dubious, to say the least, way these actions correspond with democratic values, including that of privacy and free speech protections, one of the first things that jumps out is the sheer waste of time and money in undertaking such “operations.”

As for the procurement document in question, it reads that Protective Services Field Office/Protective Intelligence Branch (PSIFO/PIB) were on the lookout to buy “an open-source web based tool-kit with advanced capabilities to collect publicly available information.”

And of course, the promise of preserving anonymity of surveillance subjects is a built-in platitude.

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