Right about the time President Barack Obama made to the nation his declaration of war in Iraq and Syria against the terrorist organization ISIS, Homeland Security Department (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson quietly announced that he's expanding the "See Something, Say Something" campaign by enlisting retailers to make sure you're with us, not against us, in this fight.
Johnson delivered some remarks at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York on September 10. He recalled that the September 11, 2001 attacks gave birth to his department, and boasted how much its grown since—"240,000 employees, 22 components and a total budget authority of about $60 billion"—but apparently that's not enough.
He listed the DHS's five-point plan to slog through the ever-hazier war on terror and the last one is "to address the home-grown terrorist who may be lurking in our midst" by "sending a private sector advisory identifying for retail businesses a long list of materials that could be used as explosive precursors, and the types of suspicious behavior that a retailer should look for from someone who buys a lot of these materials." He refused to say exactly what's on his list.
This new policy is alarming and problematic, first of all, because the FBI, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Johnson himself (repeatedly) have all acknowledged that ISIS poses no credible threat to the U.S. homeland.
Johnson assures he's just looking for "explosive precursors" in people's shopping lists, but as TechDirt's Tim Cushing points out, "that could be nearly anything." Cushing predicts that this could be used to justify an even greater invasion of privacy: "Because retail outlets don't share customer purchase data with each other, this may result in the DHS attempting to justify the requisition of data from multiple retailers using credit/debit card numbers as a starting point."
This worst-first thinking, that someone buying a pressure cooker or bags fertilizer must be a domestic terrorist, promotes a climate of constant fear that degrades our own society, not ISIS.