DHS- Compiling Database of Journalists, Is this an Assault on First Amendment?

 In Politics

A post on FedBizOpps.gov (Federal Business Opportunities) by the Department of Homeland Security for “services sought” requested a contracting company that would create a searchable database that seems very much like an assault on the First Amendment. Though we don’t know what they would use the data for, it appears to go far beyond a normal ‘data collection’ request.

“Services shall enable NPPD/OUS to monitor traditional news sources as well as social media, identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event. Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers.” The deadline for application is April 13.

Are you officially nervous yet? Does this meet the smell test with regard to the First Amendment? The PDF of the Statement of Work (SOW) reads in part (emphasis mine):

2.1 Task One – Ability to track global online sources for coverage relevant to Washington and the six media hubs:

  • Ability to track > 290,000 global news sources
  • Ability to track online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, trade and industry publications, local sources, national/international outlets, traditional news sources, and social media
  • Ability to track media coverage in > 100 languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Russian. Translation function to instantly translate these articles to English.
  • Ability to create up to 20 searches with each unlimited keywords
  • Unlimited coverage per search (no cap on coverage)
  • Ability to change the searches at keywords at any given time
  • Ability to create unlimited data tracking, statistical breakdown, and graphical analyses on any coverage on an ad-hoc basis

2.2 Task Two: Media Intelligence and Benchmarking Dashboard Platform

  • Overview of search results in terms of online articles and social media conversations
  • Customized and Interactive Dashboard that provide real-time monitoring, analysis, and benchmark of media coverage.
  • Ability to analyze the media coverage in terms of content, volume, sentiment, geographical spread, top publications, media channels, reach, AVE, top posters, influencers, languages, momentum, circulation.
  • Ability to select time-period of analysis: per day, week, month, and selected dates
  • Ability to build media lists based on beat, location, outlet type/size, and journalist role
  • Automated weekly overview of these dashboards sent via email…


…2.5  Task Five:  Media Engagement

24/7 Access to a password protected, media influencer database, including journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc.

  • Ability to browse the database based on location, beat and type of influencer
  • Ability to perform ad-hoc searches on the database based on keywords, concepts, or using Boolean search terms
  • Ability to perform searches in other languages including Arabic, Chinese and Russian, in order to find influencers that publish in these languages.
  • For each influencer found, present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer
  • Ability to create unlimited media lists for specific topics
  • Ability to export the contact details of the media influencers per media list.
  • Ability to send out unlimited press releases via the platform and to monitor the open-rate of the press releases send out.
  • Ability to manage contacts

That’s not all, but that’s the main thrust, and all news media should be extremely nervous. Whether or not “Russian bots” or “fake news” is involved in the mix is totally irrelevant. When the government decides to “monitor” those who report the news and is concerned about their “sentiment” in doing so, they have stepped into an assault on freedom.

“If you think the idea of the U.S. government’s compiling and monitoring a list of media professionals and “top media influencers” is a potential threat to democracy, now would be the perfect time to call your local and congressional representatives to let them know how much you value a free press and the freedom of speech, just in case they’ve forgotten.” Michelle Fabio in Forbes


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