Solon slams CIA tracking of Twitter and Facebook as threat to constitutional rights

“The general profiling of people as ‘friend’ or ‘enemy’ on the basis of their tweets and email is definitely dangerous and must be stopped.” – Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares


MANILA – Next time you post a status in your Twitter or Facebook account, know that Big Brother might be reading over your shoulder.

Bayan Muna Representative and human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares sounded the alarm over news reports that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States of America is tracking Facebook and Twitter accounts all over the world. According to reports, the CIA is also using their embassies in various countries for these surveillance operations.

“While the US government may insist in the legality of their monitoring of Twitter accounts due to their public nature, monitoring is a very dangerous preoccupation and a threat to constitutional rights not only because it crosses into the unconstitutional when it enters into closed social network sites or hacks emails but also because it leads to profiling which is unconstitutional especially if it serves as a prelude to illegal entry into private domains,” he said.

“Vengeful librarians”

According to a report on PressTV, around two-thirds of intelligence reports sent to Washington are made by CIA analysts who monitor millions of individual messages sent worldwide on a daily basis via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

It cited a statement of CIA Open Source Center (OSC) director Doug Naquin that a a team of “vengeful librarians” study networks and media outlets that are open to contributions made by individuals from all over the world. Besides the Twitter and Facebook, the CIA also reportedly monitors television news programs, radio talk shows, chatrooms in the internet, and newspapers for their content and what they imply for the military, economic and political security of the US. These “vengeful librarians” are also said to make note of organizations, individuals and formations that are critical or outrightly against the US and its domestic and international policies.

According to Naquin in a separate report quoted in the Associated Press, any tweet in any given language, regardless of its significance, is closely looked at by analysts. They then cross-reference it with local newspapers or even a “clandestinely interrupted phone conversation.”

These analysts monitor events such as the assassination of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May, the uprisings in the Middle Eastern or North African nations, and other international developments that are certain to impact on the public’s consciousness.

According to reports, the CIA-run facility was first established as an answer to the proposal made by the 9/11 Commission to make inroads in efforts against counter-terrorism and to enact counter-proliferation actions. The objective of the CIA reportedly shifted to monitoring social media during the unrest in the Islamic Republic of Iran following its 2009 US presidential election.

Naquin said their almost daily reports, in one way or another, end up in US President Barack Obama’s daily intelligence briefing. According to reports, most of the center’s several-hundred analysts are based in Virginia, but many others are scattered in various US embassies all over the world.

Friend or enemy

Colmenares said that while people generally open Facebook accounts with the intent to relate to people who consider them friends, the CIA is monitoring the social networking sites for accounts of individuals it considers as enemies of US interests.Currently, there are 267,520,00 Facebook users in the Philippines, which makes it number eight in the ranking of all Facebook statistics by country.

According to the site SocialBakers monitoring social media statistics, Facebook (FB) penetration in the Philippines is pegged at 26.78 percent compared to the country’s population and 90.07 percent in relation to the number of Internet users. The total number of FB users in Philippines also grew by more than 3,352,360 in the last six months.

Comparing these Facebook statistics with the nearest countries by number of Facebook users shows that the Philippines has 0.19 percent higher FB penetration than Germany and 0.00 percent lower FB penetration than Mexico.
“When authorities pretend to be ‘friends’ in Facebook but with the not-so-friendly intention of monitoring people’s activities and profiling various individuals it suspects of anti-US activities, this is definitely subject to a constitutional challenge because it leads to discrimination. This could even be challenged for violation of the right to be safe from unreasonable searches and seizure without probable cause,” he said.

Colmebares said the admission that even US embassies in foreign countries are involved in the operations makes it more unacceptable. He said officials of embassies are given diplomatic immunity because they are understood to engage in diplomatic functions.

“Any intelligence function by an embassy is considered anathema to its task and the US embassy here must inform the Aquino government whether it engages in the same kind of monitoring,” he said. The lawmaker said the Aquino government must also demand that the US embassy in Manila informs us what the guidelines and parameters of its monitoring activities are, whether it was done through the internet or through innocuous dinner talk.

The human rights lawyer said US Ambassador Harry Thomas must categorically state whether the US embassy engages in the same kind of monitoring, and provide information on the guidelines for the conduct of the monitoring.
The US embassy has already been criticized severely when previously sensitive and secret diplomatic missives and cables were released by Wikileaks. Documented in hundreds of cables sent by officials of the US embassy in the Philippines led by former ambassador Kristie Kenney were the embassy’s views and actions on Philippine issues ranging from military, economic and political. Observers said it was evident that the US was closely monitoring, as well as interfering in Philippine government affairs through various means such as lobbying with legislators and influencing ranking government officials.

Finally, Colmenares cited reports that In-Q-Tel of the CIA has invested into Visible Technologies, a software company that crawls across blogs, online forums, and open networks like Twitter and YouTube to monitor what is being said.

“Police also used such data so that they could enter the home of an organizer who tweeted to protesters in the G-20 summit in Pittsburg. All in all, even the general profiling of people as ‘friend’ or ‘enemy’ on the basis of their tweets and email is definitely dangerous and must be stopped,” he said.

In the Philippines, progressive people’s organizations and party-list groups such as Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Bayan Muna, Karapatan and others maintain Facebook accounts where the public information officers of the group regularly post updates on their group’s activities. They also post statements, photos as well as calls to action for their upcoming protests and similar gatherings.

These grassroots organizations among others have been previously tagged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as fronts for revolutionary groups waging armed struggle against the AFP and the Government of the Philippines. More than a thousand human rights advocates and members from the said groups became victims of extrajudicial killings on the unfounded accusation of being supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA).(

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