'Secret' DHS Twitter Account Isn't Following Anyone Interesting, So Why Is It Secret?

from the looks-like-a-pretty-boring-feed dept

It’s no secret that various law enforcement and government agencies “monitor” Twitter, and sometimes to do that properly, they need to have an actual Twitter account. Apparently for Homeland Security, that Twitter account is @DHSNOCMMC1, which (as you might imagine) is a “protected” account, so you can’t see its tweets. However, Carlton Purvis noticed that this account followed a few hundred other Twitter users, and wondered who they were. Purvis filed a FOIA request, asking for the follower list, but also for any authorized apps and widgets that DHS uses. It took a while (and many, many followups), but DHS finally sent back the list, and it’s basically just a big list of news media (CNN, Al Jazeera English, ABC, etc.) and various government and law enforcement agencies (FEMA, FDNY, Chicago Police, etc.). The response notes that “in acordance [sic] with DHS Privacy direction, DHS NOC MMC follows only authorized accounts and never follows accounts of private individuals.”

Of course, Purvis notes that there are actually two (somewhat random) individuals on the list: District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. Somewhat random. But that really raises the larger question: what is DHS doing with this account, and why is it “protected” in the first place. If nothing on the list is controversial (and it doesn’t seem like it), and they’re clearly not using the account to tweet out publicly, why not just leave the account “open” and just not tweet. Then people wouldn’t even wonder who they’re following.

In terms of apps used, they admit to using TweetDeck and TweetGrid to monitor the service, so it’s likely that they’ve set up some searches, for which you don’t have to be following any individuals directly. But it still makes you wonder how effective the whole process really is. Perhaps DHS thinks that’s what it needs to do, ever since Twitter told the feds to take a hike when it came to PRISM.

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Comments on “'Secret' DHS Twitter Account Isn't Following Anyone Interesting, So Why Is It Secret?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Ah well, I usually set all settings to a maximum privacy level if I sign up to a site, and will relax those later only if I’ve become comfortable with the site and am sure which things I want to disclose.

I can imagine that if you’re working at DHS, you’ve got a mindset of “Do Not Disclose unless you have no other choice”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: More from DHS+Twitter

Remember the Emergency Broadcast System ?? Apparently 9/11 wasn’t a big enough threat to trigger that.

“The Emergency Broadcast System was established to provide the President of the United States with an expeditious method of communicating with the American public in the event of war, threat of war, or grave national crisis.”

????? ????? ??The New York Times, October 5, 1963 ? (via Wikipedia)


What did you expect Mr Bush would have said? ? That is, if Mr Bush had fired up the good ol’ Emergency Broadcast System on 9/11?

?Duck and cover.?


John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: More from DHS+Twitter

Is it true that it never activated? Can anyone who was in NY that day confirm that?

A couple of things about the EBS: it gets activated regionally. The EBS transmissions would only have happened in the affected area.

Also, there may have been no need to activate it for 9/11. 9/11 was not a “massive attack”, nor even something on par with a big deal like a hurricane. There was no need to do anything that you’d need the EBS for, for example, announcing evacuations.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 More from DHS+Twitter

I’d never heard about the EBS one way or the other with 9/11. Corporate media reports aren’t evidence one way or another. Much, if not most, of what the corporate media said during and after 9/11 proved to be complete bullshit, and so everything they said and say must be considered highly unreliable.

McCrea (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 More from DHS+Twitter

If you don’t believe other sources, then you’ll have to be your own source, I guess. Nonetheless, letmegooglethatforyou.

In a The New York Times article (correction printed January 3, 2002) “No president has ever used the current [EAS] system or its technical predecessors in the last 50 years, despite the Soviet missile crisis, a presidential assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing, major earthquakes and three recent high-alert terrorist warnings…

N.B. EBS was replaced with EAS in 1997.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t really have an issue with this. This seems like a non issue, a twitter account so that they can easily follow other twitter accounts and maybe privately tweet a few things to those following it.

While transparency in how they operate would be nice, it doesn’t mean they have to reveal every little thing they’re doing. I doubt anything dastardly is going on using their private twitter account, nor is millions of dollars of funding being spent on it.

In fact I’d even apply the “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide…” faulty logic to this. They can decide to NOT share something like this if they don’t want to.

God knows when I sign up for sites that I don’t care for I maximize my privacy on everything, just for the hell of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Just because they are funded by taxpayer dollars doesn’t mean every aspect of it has to be revealed, especially fairly mundane things like this.

It is VERY easy to imagine a business or organization keeping multiple twitter accounts private simply due to it being used for certain internal communications or simply as a variety of aggregators of different kinds of news information posted by other twitter accounts.

Neither of which would benefit the public much.

NoahVail (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Unlike a business, individual or private organization, DHS is a governmental agency.

And unlike a business, individual or private organization, governmental agencies are wholly financed by taxpayers and therefore accountable to us.

One can imagine all sorts of things but imagination isn’t very solid ground to build public policy.

If we put imagination and things that aren’t government aside, this comes down to “How is the public best served?”

And one of the default answers to that question is:
“With transparency, openness and a dedication to be accountable to the people who pay for your existence.”

In real life that translates to:
“No Secrets. No hiding one’s actions. No unavoidable delay in informing the public.”

That’s where we always start. The VERY rare exception to that rule should always be very, very difficult to achieve.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Again, the issue with with this argument is the same as the argument in the other direction.

TOTAL transparency would be useless, and would significantly undermine an organization from doing anything useful at all. It would also inundate the public with fairly useless information.

These businesses should be held accountable, but in a functioning world, the courts would limit the power of these agencies that violate the constitutional rights of its citizens.

A company wishing to keep a twitter account private for whatever reason, or its internal communications private is NOT the same as the NSA surveillance program, which they DO need to be held accountable for.

Being paid by taxpayer dollars does not give the taxpayers carte blanch on everything every agency does in the government. It would not only be impractical, it would be useless for such minor things.

They should be accountable, definitely for their projects and programs, but a twitter account?

Accountability and transparency are not the same thing. They should be accountable, but it doesn’t mean they need to be 100% transparent about everything they do. The idea of 100% transparency is just as faulty as the idea of 100% security. Nothing would get done.

Anonymous Coward says:

whats the difference

what’s the difference between this and people here saying they want to encrypt their email, even though they ‘have nothing to hide’ ?

so if you have nothing to hide in all your personal communications why not make it public, or allow anyone to view it ?

see how you want to have it both ways, it’s ok for you to do it, but not for anyone else ?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: whats the difference

Are you serious?

Interesting this is coming from an anonymous commenter.

No one is saying it’s not OK for anyone else to do it. It’s OK for others to do it as private citizens. but there is a difference between someone acting as a private citizen and a tax funded government employee acting as a government employee.

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