Life · Social Media

Homeland Security Uses Social Media to Find Terrorists

Be careful as to what you are posting on your Twitter and Facebook. If you felt your privacy was being exploited by new privacy policies, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) takes it a whole step further. The government has come up with a list of keywords they track through your tweets, status updates, and posts.

Photo Courtesy of Animal New York

The DHS initiative began in February 2011 aimed to use social media to alert officials with threats to national security as they are tweeted or posted. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) released DHS internal documents about the surveillance and information collected via social media on a daily basis, which they obtained through a lawsuit pushing the Freedom of Information Act.

DHS monitors your updates on social networks to find Items Of Interest (IOI), according to the internal documents.DHS paid more than $11 million to General Dynamics to help monitor the Internet and provide the government with periodic reports.The DHS uses the Media Monitoring Capability team (MMC) to look at social media to generate real time IOI reports.

“Social Media outlets provide instant feedback and alert capabilities to rapidly changing or newly occurring situations,” the U.S. Homeland Security internal documents state. “The [Media Monitoring Capability team] works to summarize the extensive information from these resources to provide a well rounded operational picture for the Department of Homeland Security.”

The DHS has an internal privacy policy attempting to remove your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) from IOI tweets, status updates, and posts, with some vague exceptions:

1) U.S. and foreign individuals in extremis situations involving potential life or death circumstances; (this is no change)
2) Senior U.S. and foreign government officials who make public statements or provide public updates;
3) U.S. and foreign government spokespersons who make public statements or provide public updates;
4) U.S. and foreign private sector officials and spokespersons who make public statements or provide public updates;
5) Names of anchors, newscasters, or on-scene reporters who are known or identified as reporters in their post or article or who use traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed;
6) Current and former public officials who are victims of incidents or activities related to Homeland Security; and
7) Terrorists, drug cartel leaders or other persons known to have been involved in major crimes of Homeland Security interest, (e.g., mass shooters such as those at Virginia Tech or Ft. Hood) who are killed or found dead.

The MMC can also transmit PII to DHS over the phone “as deemed necessary.” They can share your information, but it is not stored in a database searchable by your PII.

Terms can also be added to the list as needed, or circumstantially.EPIC says the surveillance of social media networks, public forums and websites violates the First Amendment and the Privacy Act of 1974. “The agency has demonstrated no legal basis for its social network and media monitoring program, which threatens important free speech and expression rights,” EPIC said in a Feb. 22 letter submitted to U.S. Congress.

Photo Courtesy of Brand Protect

So what keywords should you not hashtag or inclue in your posts?

2.13 Key Words & Search Terms“This is a current list of terms that will be used by the NOC when monitoring social media sites to provide situational awareness and establish a common operating picture. As natural or manmade disasters occur, new search terms may be added.

The new search terms will not use PII in searching for relevant
mission-related information.”

Here is a shortened list:

DHS & Other Agencies

  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • Coast Guard (USCG)
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • Border Patrol
  • Secret Service (USSS)
  • Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)
  • National Guard
  • Red Cross
  • United Nations (UN)

Domestic Security

  • Assassination
  • Attack
  • Exercise
  • Cops
  • Homeland security
  • Militia
  • Shooting
  • Shots fired
  • Evacuation
  • Deaths
  • Hostage
  • Explosion (explosive)
  • Police

HAZMAT & Nuclear

  • Hazmat
  • Nuclear
  • Toxic
  • Chemical
  • Hazardous
  • Gas
  • Spillover
  • Anthrax
  • Exposure
  • Burn
  • North Korea

Health Concern + H1N1

  • Outbreak
  • Contamination
  • Exposure
  • Virus
  • Evacuation
  • Bacteria

Infrastructure Security

  • Infrastructure security
  • Airport
  • CIKR (Critical Infrastructure & Key Resources)
  • Collapse
  • Computer infrastructure
  • Communications infrastructure
  • Metro
  • Electric
  • Failure or outage
  • Black out
  • Brown out
  • Port
  • Dock
  • Bridge
  • Canceled
  • Delays

Southwest Border Violence

  • Drug cartel
  • Violence
  • Gang
  • Drug
  • Narcotics
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Heroin
  • Meth Lab
  • Drug trade


  • Terrorism
  • Al Queda (all spellings)
  • Terror
  • Attack
  • Environmental terrorist
  • Eco terrorism
  • Nuclear
  • Chemical weapon
  • Biological weapon
  • Ammonium nitrate
  • Improvised explosive device
  • Suicide bomber
  • Suicide attack
  • Suspicious substance
  • Pirates
  • Plot
  • Nationalist


  • Emergency
  • Hurricane
  • Tornado
  • Twister
  • Tsunami
  • Earthquake
  • Flood
  • Storm
  • Ice
  • Help
  • Hail
  • Wildfire
  • Blizzard
  • Aid
  • Relief

Cyber Security

  • Cyber security
  • Virus
  • Spammer
  • Phishing
  • Cyber terror
  • Hacker
  • Worm
  • Scammers
  • Social media

Yes… they are searching for Social Media posts… So before you post, keep in mind the National Defense Authorization Act provision “Counter-Terrorism.” If the government suspects involvement in terrorism you can face indefinite detention. Don’t you just love the abuse of Presidential and governmental authority? Do you feel safer knowing the government is monitoring you?


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