Post the Words “Mexico” or “Sick” and Homeland Security Watches You

What U.S. Homeland Security does to protect the U.S. is interesting to many, but now you can find out how your own online activity might trigger Homeland Security to monitor you. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the department had to release a list of keywords and phrases it uses to look for signs of terrorist or other threats against the U.S.—and the list includes hundreds of words. “Bomb” and “assassination” are words one would expect as entries; “cloud,” “sick,” and “team” might be surprising.

As part of their mandate to monitor terrorist or other threats against the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security monitors social networking sites and online media. It also watches for unfolding public health threats, natural disasters, and crimes such as significant drug busts, illegal immigrant busts, and mall or school shootings.

The list has been posted online by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)—a privacy watchdog group. This group filed a court request for the publication of documents with the watchwords list, which was upheld. EPIC claimed the choice of words as broad, vague and ambiguous, unrelated to Homeland Security. In response to that, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman responded that the manual is a starting point in maintaining awareness of natural and man-made threats. He ensured EPIC that the department will review the language of all materials to ensure clarity and the intent of the program so that it will only be used within the parameters of U.S. security and national disasters.

The complete list of words can be viewed at

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