The Department of Homeland Security has plans to create a “media influencer database” that it says will track over 290,000 global news sources.
According to documents issued by DHS last week, the department is looking for a contractor who can monitor “any or all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event.” The scope of the database is to include online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, and trade and industry publications, as well as international media outlets.
In addition to tracking media content, the database would also compile information on the people who produce that content. DHS says that potential contractors for the project should be able to “present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications that this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer.”
The proposed database, which would also gather data on social media conversations, would analyze statements in terms of “sentiment” as well as content.
While DHS says it has “a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach Federal, state, local, tribal and private partners,” it has not been forthcoming about exactly what kind of uses the information gathered would be put to, or as regards what, if any, limits would be put on the gathering of that information.
DHS spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton downplays any possible threats to press freedom posed by the database. “Despite what some reporters may suggest, this is nothing more than the standard practice of monitoring current events in the media. Any suggestion otherwise is fit for tin foil hat wearing, black helicopter conspiracy theorists,” he said in an April 6 tweet.
In a piece on Forbes.com, Michelle Fabio disagreed. She writes that the details of the proposed plan to monitor media professional and influencers “are enough to cause nightmares of constitutional proportions, particularly as the freedom of the press is under attack worldwide.”