The Department of Homeland Security is considering hiring private companies to analyze public social media for warning signs of extremist violence, spurring debate within the agency over how to monitor for such threats while protecting Americans’ civil liberties.
The effort, which remains under discussion and hasn’t received approval or funding, would involve sifting through large flows of internet traffic to help identify online narratives that might provide leads on developing attacks, whether from home or abroad.
The initiative comes after the nation’s intelligence community failed to sufficiently identify and share signs of the threats that led to the assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Donald Trump supporters on Jan. 6.
John Cohen, a top DHS official, is spearheading the project, which he describes as part of an upgrade to the department’s capabilities in social-media analysis. Marshaling the expertise of outside companies is central to that effort, he said.
“What we’re talking about now is dramatically expanding our focus,” Mr. Cohen said in an interview.