(Ken Silva, Headline USA) Independent journalist Lee Fang published a story this week about how the U.S. government is partnering with private intelligence firms to spy on gaming chatrooms—revealing that the online spooks are particularly interested in conducting surveillance on teenagers.
Fang interviewed representatives of at least six online cyber firms at the RSA Conference 2023. They reportedly told him about their partnerships with the FBI and other agencies to monitor online chat platforms such as Discord, WhatsApp, Reddit and others.
“Having already gained access to traditional social media platforms, the federal government now has its sights set on private online communities where terrorist groups, radical political activists, and hackers can operate with relative freedom,” Fang wrote.
One of the more shocking revelations from Fang’s reporting was one intelligence firm’s open admission that it spies on teenagers.
“I prefer to detect threat actors when they’re young or starting out at 14 or 15. That’s when I start observing and documenting their malicious activities,” said an unnamed official from the Israeli threat intelligence firm CyberInt.
“Because when they’re at that age or stage in their career, they’re a lot more careless and open. They tend to show off more.”
Fang also revealed that intelligence firms are keen on surveilling constitutionally protected activity. DarkOwl President Russel Cohen reportedly told the reporter that his firm spies on people who talk about guns.
“We have algorithms about what information we find interesting. So if somebody is talking about guns, that would be something we find interesting,” Cohen reportedly said. “We’re not looking for things that are not commercially interesting, such as pornography.”
Fang’s report comes at a time when the U.S. government is looking to drastically increase its presence in chatrooms. Officials say this is necessary in the wake of the Discord Leaks, which allegedly entailed a Massachusetts Air National Guardsman leaking highly sensitive Pentagon documents on a Discord server just to impress his gamer friends.
Citing an anonymous administration official and a congressional official who was briefed on the matter, NBC News reported last month that the Biden White House is “looking at expanding the universe of online sites that intelligence agencies and law enforcement authorities track.”
NBC News also quoted former NSA top lawyer Glenn Gerstell, who claimed that “we do not have nor do we want a system where the United States government monitors private internet chats.”
Fang also talked to privacy advocates who expressed concern about this development.
“There’s a disturbing trend toward government agencies contracting out surveillance, paying the likes of data brokers to spy on people even when agents wouldn’t be allowed to,” Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel of Demand Progress, told Fang.
“It’s becoming frighteningly apparent that a similar privatized spying cottage industry targeting private chat rooms also exists.”
Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.