The Biden administration’s potential motions to quash “domestic extremism” have prompted a slew of questions from free-thinking Americans, many of which pertain to our First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Now the Biden administration has taken another step toward this overreach of power, reportedly employing officials at the Pentagon to launch a “pilot program for screening social media content for extremist material,” according to Defense Department documents reviewed by The Intercept.
The program, led by senior adviser to the defense secretary and head of an “extremism steering committee” Bishop Garrison, will “continuously” monitor military personnel for “concerning behaviors,” a Pentagon briefing in late March said, according to The Intercept.
Though we can wonder how government surveillance of service members can be considered constitutional, the masterminds behind the program anticipated pushbacks and now reportedly seek to employ a private firm to conduct such surveillance.
Though the decision on which private firm will be selected is not yet finalized, it appears Babel Street is the favored company for the job.
“Babel Street has drawn criticism for its practice of buying bulk cellular location data and selling it to federal national security agencies like the Secret Service, who rely on the private company to bypass warrant requirements normally imposed on government bodies seeking to collect data,” The Intercept reported.
The program will reportedly use a list of keywords to find potential “extremists,” but a senior Pentagon official told The Intercept finding terms that do not violate freedom of speech protections has been difficult.
In an update after The Intercept published its report on Monday, the outlet released a statement from a spokesperson for the House Armed Services Committee.
“The Committee understands that the Department of Defense is exploring a means of implementing social media screening in conjunction with background investigations,” the spokesperson said. “We anticipate that any social media screening would be intended only as an additional means of vetting cleared individuals or those seeking to obtain a security clearance, not as a tool for ongoing surveillance of all men and women in uniform.
“That said, Secretary Austin has been clear about his intentions to understand to what extent extremism exists in the force and its effect on good order and discipline. We look forward to hearing the results of the stand down and the Department’s plan to move forward.”
Though this program is reportedly still in its developmental phase, it isn’t hard to predict where it will lead.
Content on service members’ — and everyone else’s — social media accounts should be protected by the First Amendment.
But even more can be said about Fourth Amendment protections, including that the government should never be allowed to surveil citizens without a warrant, not even under the guise of a private entity.
In a partisan administration’s eyes, what constitutes “concerning behaviors?” And can the definition of “domestic extremism” reach so far as to envelop all who push back against the current administration’s goals?
Maybe we’re complacent and believe blatant tyrannical flexes of power are uncharacteristic of an American government.
However, complacency breeds injustice.
Extremism can be a very subjective term, especially considering the officials in charge of determining “extremism” could align with one particular administration.
We can reach a consensus on one thing: Those whose political views prompt violence against others are considered extremists.
But what happens if a service member flaunts avid support for Second Amendment rights or promotes conspiratorial content on social media that the left may find controversial?
Though some may disagree with such content, all peaceful expression should be protected by the First Amendment.
What if private surveillance becomes an acceptable solution for everyone and we strip ourselves of our fundamental rights to privacy and free speech?
We can safely say we can’t expect an administration that fostered such divisive rhetoric to make impartial decisions about what constitutes “extremism.” Period.
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