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The government would analyze that data to assess “narratives” that it claims could lead to violence – i.e., political views, assertions, or theories declared beyond the pale by those currently in control of the executive branch. “What do you do about ideology that’s leading to violence? Do you have to wait until it leads to violence?” a former senior intelligence official said.
Such partnerships would effectively be an end-run around the legal prohibition against federal agents joining such groups under false pretenses for the purposes of intelligence-gathering, which critics suspect is a pretext to persecute the Biden administration’s political foes. Judicial precedent allows illegally-obtained evidence to be used in court only if it was obtained by a private citizen not acting as an agent of law enforcement.
DHS denied the report as “blatantly false” in a statement, insisting it is “not partnering with private firms to surveil suspected domestic terrorists online” and that its current activities are “done consistent with the Constitution and other applicable law, and in close coordination with our privacy and civil liberties experts.”
Despite that denial, one DHS official told CNN that the department is “exploring with our lawyers, civil rights, civil liberties and privacy colleagues, how we can make use of outside expertise.”
“There’s a tension between wanting to empower (DHS’s intelligence office) to do this kind of work around domestic terrorism on the one hand and then on the other hand the misuse of its capabilities during the summer of 2020, gives a lot of people on the Hill pause (about) potentially giving them new authorities, capabilities or resources,” said an unidentified Senate aide, referring to the government’s violations of the privacy rights of journalists and innocent civilians over the course of its response to left-wing riots in Portland, Oregon last summer.
Such drastic measures are predicated on claims that the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol was fueled in part by conservatives questioning the accuracy of the 2020 presidential election results. Despite dramatic rhetoric that the riot constituted an “insurrection,” most of the individuals arrested for their participation have only been charged with non-violent misdemeanors such as trespassing.
Nevertheless, many on the “Left” have cited the riot as a justification for further restrictions of conservative speech on social media and stigmatization of political positions the establishment deems beyond the pale.
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