According to a CNN report, the Biden administration is considering contracting private firms to monitor “extremist chatter” online. This continues an extremely concerning trend of the US government insisting that they have the right to invade the privacy of individuals in the name of public safety and security. The latest supposed catalyst is the right wing militias that spawned the Capitol Riot, but just last year the government sent DHS agents to grab people off the streets of Portland and “interview” (interrogate) them while refusing to identify themselves.
The Department of Homeland Security is restricted in how it can surveil citizens online without justification (as flimsy as that standard may be in practice), but they are reportedly attempting to circumvent these restrictions by contracting with private firms who don’t have any such rules governing them. These firms would then be able to do things like using false identities to trick people into allowing them into private messaging groups.
Needless to say, this would be a gross violation of privacy and by making an end run around the regulations governing their conduct DHS would be legitimizing every stereotype of them and making a mockery of our freedoms. This should be concerning to everyone, even if you “have nothing to hide”. Our right to privacy and freedom from surveillance is fundamental and it should be a top priority of the government to protect that right, not to breach it. Everyone has information they would like to keep private, and the government accessing our information without due process is a threat to us all.
The government has never been shy about using terrorism or civil unrest as the excuse for expanding the surveillance power of the state, and this would clearly be just another example. We all know how 9/11 was used to justify the Patriot Act, the repercussions of which are still being felt strongly today.
Libertarians shouldn’t be the only ones protesting and fighting against these gross governmental overreaches. Everyone who values privacy in their everyday conversations should be outraged, and regardless of your political affiliation, we welcome you to join us in pushing back against the surveillance state. The best ways to do this would be to join your state Libertarian Party affiliate and work with other like-minded individuals to maintain our civil liberties and our privacy, donate to and vote for candidates who support rolling back the surveillance state, and support messaging platforms that have strong privacy standards.