“The Biden administration,” CNN reports, “is considering using outside firms to track extremist chatter by Americans online.”
Federal law enforcement agencies are legally and constitutionally forbidden to monitor the private activities of citizens without first getting warrants based on probable cause to believe those citizens have committed, or are committing, crimes. The feds can browse public social media posts and so forth, but secretly trawling private groups and hacking encrypted chats is off-limits.
Private companies and nonprofit civic organizations, not being government entities, don’t need warrants or probable cause to access those private discussion areas. The administration’s bright idea is that through partnership with these non-government entities, they can get around legal and constitutional barriers: “WE didn’t collect the information. THEY collected the information, then gave it to us.”
There are several flies in that ointment. Here’s a big one:
It’s entirely understandable that — to use an entirely hypothetical example — someone with the Southern Poverty Law Center might impersonate a fictional white supremacist to get into a private Ku Klux Klan chat room and see what those people are up to.
But the US Department of Justice says it’s illegal (under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) to evade terms of service with false identities.