In a move that is bound to be controversial, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has now posted a contract offering for something it calls "Media Monitoring Services." Applicants have until April 13 to the respond to the listing, which was posted to the official Federal Business Opportunities site. However, the application process isn't all that interesting with consideration for what the program seeks to do. That's because the proposal would effectively be a searchable database of professional journalists and what the Statement of Work calls "top media influencers." That database would be comprised of writers from over 290,000 global news sources and social media sites, including "journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc." The purpose of that technology-enhanced database is described as a means to improve the adaptability and security of national cyber and physical infrastructure and it would essentially apply to all forms of media.
Although the language included in the listing's Statement of Work seems to indicate a genuinely good purpose for the proposed program, it is still likely to raise more than a few eyebrows. That's down to the fact that most of the language in the description is relatively vague. For example, the media coverage the DHS would be collecting – both past and present – would be "any and all" media tied in with interests of the DHS "or a particular event." Moreover, it would be searchable by "location, beat, and type of influencer" and the details of each "influencer" seems to include descriptions of contact details, publications, media covered, and "sentiment." Setting aside likely comparisons that will be made between this new program and the past pitfalls of McCarthyism, there are already arguments being made that this new database might infringe on freedom of the press.
Having said all of that, there are no guarantees that this program would be abused. It could also be argued that such a program may have been able to shed light on the still controversial idea that the U.S. government is subject to foreign influence if it had been in place. Moreover, there's a chance that the contract won't be responded to due to the amount of controversy it could cause. That would likely result in a scenario where the contract simply goes unfulfilled. In the meantime, this is almost certainly going to be a hot-button issue and topic of heated debate – joining a growing list of controversial government actions over the past few years.