Homeland Security: See Something “Suspicious” Online? Tell Us About It

Bloomington, Minnesota

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is requesting $1 million for a Public Service Awareness (PSA) program they’re rolling out that’s modeled after their “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign launched in the aftermath of 9/11. If people see something that’s suspicious on the internet or in an email, DHS wants to be made aware, and their $1 million-program will network with local and state governments, law enforcement agencies, and even private companies to investigate the “suspicious online activity.” According to a DHS budget document for fiscal year 2017:

The Department of Homeland Security requests $1 million to address issues of Cyber Security through the development of a public service awareness (PSA) campaign similar to the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign and the Blue Campaign programs – consistent with the current placement of these types of public awareness campaigns and leadership preference, it is requested that this program be placed in the Office of Partnership and Engagement. The program will look to raise public and private sector awareness of Cyber Security and to emphasize the importance of Cyber awareness and information safekeeping. The funding will allow for DHS to meet the needs and demands of this growing endeavor and expand its work with cities, states, law enforcement, the private sector and the academic community to help educate the public. The funding will facilitate the production and distribution of public service announcements, advertisement buys, and printing of educational/informational material, material translation, and travel to briefings/trainings that are critical to increasing the reach of this program.

The $1 million will cover the $94,000 salary of a full-time employee who will use the remaining $906,000 to administer the program.

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It remains to be seen whether this new campaign raising awareness of potential cyber terrorism will be as successful as the “See Something, Say Something” campaign. The number of terrorists arrested as a result of a “concerned citizen” notifying law enforcement about “suspicious activity” is exactly zero. However, thousands of people have “said something” to DHS or local law enforcement after they “saw something,” just in case. All that follows is a bunch of false positives.

It’s similar to the TSA’s protocols designed to catch terrorists. Their efforts have led to the arrests of zero individuals tied to terrorism. The same goes for the NSA’s widespread surveillance programs. Zero terrorists caught. And yet, with all the electronic and phone surveillance, and “See Something, Say Something” public awareness campaigns, we still end up with terrorist attacks such as the Boston bombing and the San Bernardino shooting. To quote cyber security expert Bruce Schneier: “If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get amateur security.”

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