Twitter and the Line-Eater (assassination, dirty bomb, anthrax)

Posted on: Mon, 01/30/2012 - 21:32 By: Tom Swiss

Back in the glory days of USENET, we would half-joke about the "NSA Line Eater", a (hypothetical?) program that scanned posts for keywords like "cocaine", "nuclear materials", or "Palestinian". It was a standard practice to deliberately include these words in one's .sig or in a header, to overwhelm the (supposed?) spooks.

Well my friends, everything old is new again, and history repeats itself as farce. According to our good friends at EPIC, DHS is using fake accounts to routinely monitor Twitter and Facebook for key terms. And they're serious about it: two unfortunate British tourists were denied entry to the U.S., arrested, and had their passports confiscated after joking on Twitter that they were going to "destroy America" and "dig up Marilyn Monroe".

Now, here's the thing about our confused fans in domestic surveillance: they've actually given us a partial list of what they're looking for. Page 17 of this Department of Homeland Security memo tells us that terms like:

  • assassination
  • drill
  • national preparedness
  • dirty bomb
  • domestic nuclear detection
  • militia
  • shots fired
  • hostage
  • explosion
  • state of emergency
  • breach
  • anthrax
  • nerve agent
  • ricin
  • H5N1

-- well, the list goes on for a bit -- will get their attention.

So, in the spirit of the old NSA Line Eater, and to show that broad snooping, arresting tourists for Family Guy-inspired jokes, and security theater are not the ways to keep us safe, I suggest we start incorporating these terms into our tweets and posts. Have fun.

(nerve agent ricin H5N1)