The Department of Homeland Security plans to create a "Media Monitoring" system to track the reports and "sentiments" of journalists, bloggers and social media stars.
A computer dashboard for the database will allow the DHS to monitor journalists in "live time" by name, topics covered and their location, according to specifications for the project.
A "request for information" on FedBizOpps.gov states that the intelligence agency wants to hire a contractor to identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security — or any particular event. Companies interested in the project are being asked to submit their qualifications and other information.
The revelation comes amid a heated national debate about gun laws, concerns about "fake news," and questions about how foreign interests used social media to manipulate U.S. elections and policy.
Who will be monitored?
Media to be monitored and tracked includes print, online, broadcast, cable, radio, local sources, national/international outlets, traditional news sources, trade and industry publications, and social media "influencers," according to the project specifications. The scope of sources to be tracked spans 290,000 global news sources in more than 100 languages.
Information gathered will include 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 influencer.”
Specifications indicate the contractor must have the ability to analyze media coverage in terms of "content, volume, sentiment, geographical spread, top publications, media channels, reach, top posters, momentum and circulation." Further, the database will be searchable by location, beat and media type, as well as keywords and concepts.
What have free press advocates said?
Forbes contributor Michelle Fabio called the move "today’s installment of 'I’m Not Terrified, You Are.'" The agency's request for information is "enough to cause nightmares of constitutional proportions, particularly as the freedom of the press is under attack worldwide," she wrote.
The column was tweeted by the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, non-profit group concerned with protecting freedom of the press worldwide.
The DHS was quick to quash what it called conspiracy theories about the database. DHS's press secretary wrote on Twitter that concerns about the database are coming from "tin foil hat wearing, black helicopter conspiracy theorists."
"This is nothing more than the standard practice of monitoring current events in the media," Tyler Q. Houlton wrote.
The Media Monitoring program falls under the DHS's National Protection and Programs Directorate.
Included in the division is the Office of Biometric Identity Management, Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis, Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, Office of Infrastructure Protection, and The Federal Protective Service, which protects federal facilities.
DHS has set an April 13, 2018 deadline for companies to submit their information.