Top 374 keywords the U.S. government monitors

Top 374 keywords the U.S. government monitors

Summary: Three months on, the media mill continues to grind after EPIC releases a four-page list of words the U.S. government monitors social media for.


Three months ago, a list of keywords was released by the Dept. for Homeland Security after the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sued the government for withholding the document.

The story has stirred up again by a couple of recent media reports have gotten the social networks sharing the media reports like wildfire.

This got me thinking.

The U.S. government may not be monitoring everything you say on social media sites, it monitors hundreds of seemingly obvious keywords every minute of the day --- and some that are just plain bizarre.

The 39-page "2011 Analyst's Desktop Binder", emblazoned with the Homeland Security seal, dedicates four pages to words ranging from weather terms and cyber security to "south-west border" words and health related terms.

As we head into the summer season, you may want to think twice before tweeting about barbeque "pork" or how the "cloud" is ruining the weather --- a thoughtless comment that could end up with your Twitter account being monitored.

SmartPlanet readers: God forbid you should retweet anything written about "grids" as that term included on the list. Going to the "airport"? Or late getting there because of traffic "delays"? Gotten so angry you tweeted you were going to blow it up? (Well, that last one actually happened.) The rest are all on there.

While statistically the chances of those two words are unlikely, the chance of a genuine suspected criminal actively saying on any online forum: "Let's get the cocaine and heroin in El Paso". It's comical to think that in a day and age of increased surveillance, anyone would be stupid enough to tweet or privately share their criminal activity online.

That said, two teenagers who were set to "destroy America" --- a common term to refer to partying hard --- were deported back to the U.K. after their rogue tweet set off alarms at Homeland Security.

Interestingly, some of the words you might expect to find are not on the list. While "China" is mentioned, the term is written in English. However, considering the tensions between Tibet and China, for instance ---  ??????  --- "China" in Tibetan --- should be monitored closer than the thousands of people retweeting a post about the country, or mentioning their seemingly unimportant vacation plans.

Twitter has 140 million users and more than 340 million daily tweets. If Twitter is the only social network monitored by Homeland Security --- though it likely isn't --- the unit must use vast amounts of data processing power to monitor millions of tweets that flag up certain keywords.

It likely has more data-sifting capabilities than those Twitter leverages for its own analytics.

What the government then does with the data again is unclear. Though, we can all but bet it doesn't print it out and stick it on the communal refrigerator for everyone else to see the good hard work of the junior staff.

As per an Associated Press report in November, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) now monitors more than five million tweets a day with the capability to monitor both Facebook and Twitter.

Sister site CNET reported last week that the FBI has formed a new unit tasked with developing new electronic surveillance technologies, such as the ability to intercept Web, wireless, and VoIP traffic. It adds yet another U.S. government department --- including the CIA, the NSA, and Homeland Security --- with the ability to monitoring online activity.

From the few media reports that have covered the story, already the retweets and the combination of words have flooded the microblogging site rendering the document vastly useless.

It's unclear how a "flagged" social media update then connects to an action. It's unlikely that a seemingly inane tweet will lead to a teenager's basement front door will get busted in an armed FBI raid. Although, the chances are the flags at Langley are going crazy with today's tweets.

According to a Homeland Security spokesperson, speaking to the Huffington Post: "DHS will review the language contained in all materials to clearly and accurately convey the parameters and intention of the program."


Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • DDOS = ?

    DDOS = dedicated denial of service, really? There goes all my security training :-(
    • LMAO! You saw that too!

      If that is part of a document released to NOC's then that show's me that not even the government fully knows what they are talking about when they can't even get their terms right. If they plan to use this as a way of profiling and catching people that have skills they shouldn't outside an $80,000 education then they are going to massively fail by using this to catch hackers. IRC is the biggest non-monitored communications in the world and the biggest means of corroboration between the nefarious. How else do you propose most botnet's even communicate? Where do you think most C&C servers sit, awaiting commands. It's not facebook and twitter you idiots. Oh and from the Non-Certified, it's Distributed Denial of Service, not Dedicated. For instance, Last week I announced that all verizon fios owners should change their default set wifi passwords. I explain that most of these routers can be hacked in seconds without attacking the device itself simply due to the routers password being the Hex equivelant of the SSID. Now, did I just plan a hack or was I informing those of my friends that may be affected? Whatever the answer, I will be profiled as having skills and knowledge I should not without an education. Therefore I MUST be a hacker and not an intelligent IT guy.
      • More in the inner lining...

        Your missing the inner lining here. The gov is not interested in catching a real terrorist, much less, a group that reeks ciaos on the security of the public. The average person doesn't even know what IRC is, let alone DDOS. They are only interested in creating their own job security. Fb and Twitter, serve only the fabricated means to the motive because the general public is familiar with them.
      • DDOS

        Dedicated denial of service is technically right. If you had a server setup just to do DDOS attacks that would be a Dedicated DOS, however, if you hijack other people computers that would be a Distributed Denial of Service attack.
    • DDOS

      Dedicated denial of service is technically right. If you had a server setup just to do DDOS attacks that would be a Dedicated DOS, however, if you hijack other people computers that would be a Distributed Denial of Service attack.
  • Top 374 keywords the U.S. government monitors

    2600? Seriously?
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Really!?!

      What does the original Atari have to do with national security?
      Beat a Dead Horse
      • Not Atari...

        2600 actually refers to what was a quarterly hacking magazine, and has now moved to an online format.
  • Situational Awareness

    Today, this is how you stay on top of what is happening in the world.... similar to monitoring tv and radio news stations for content. Whether they care who tweets what about whom, maybe, but that's a different effort entirely. The idea of tweeting publicly and believing it will not be seen/collected by every intelligence agency in the world is probably naive.
    • sooooo...

      Anyone else tempted to just tweet the entire list and ask your friends to do so too?
      Benjamin NElson
  • Yes 'they' are very worried about that Atari games console being used...

    ...for terror type activities. "Activate the 2600!"
    • Not really...

      2600 was a hacker mag back in the day, and was named after the 2600 Hz tone that the good Captain Crunch used to phreak, back in the day. And now you know, and knowing is half the battle...
  • 420 didn't make the list?

    we monitor the word "China", what about "Chinese"?
  • You know when the Terrorist win when

    When they start tweeting what sandwich they are eating for lunch.
  • You missed the point

    After reading this actual document, it appears they ("The Government," I guess that's what it is called in your Orwellian dystopia, as they never do anything to help or protect us) are not interested in personal information, and social media is a less credible source of information than national news broadcast. These words are monitored to discover IOIs, "Items of Importance," the same way they monitor the news for the same things. Man, you guys are WAY too paranoid. There is enough to be afraid of in real life, why make up new ones?
    • Re: You missed the point

      Actually, they are doing less to "help and protect us" by the day. What planet are you living on?
  • Fubar

    So just to have a little fun..... why shouldn't every person with an internet connection make a point to include as many of these "keywords" as often as we can. If we are not doing anything wrong, then we certainly don't have anything to lose.... buy it might be worth a lol or two. :)
  • Yeah Yeah Yeah!

  • You mean something like:

    2600 spammers are phishing for a rootkit while they are phreaking for a cyber attack
  • So, what are the 374 words?

    They don't seem to be listed in any of your links.