Federal agents are investigating YouTube users who have watched specific videos, even though those videos are legal in nature. Unsealed court documents revealed that the Federal authorities requested that Google provide names, addresses, telephone numbers, and user activity for certain accounts on YouTube. 

The common adage that watching or searching for certain types of content will put you on a Federal watch list has apparently been proven true by these recent revelations. One user was a suspect in a Bitcoin money laundering scheme. Federal agents sent the user links to YouTube tutorials regarding drone mapping and augmented reality. The agents followed up with Google and requested data from the user accounts that viewed the video. 

One of the selected videos for which they requested user information had 30,000 views. Another request involved viewers of live streams from a YouTube account with 130,000 subscribers. The live stream allegedly contained the actions of an unknown man who put an explosive into a public trash can. 

Asking for personal information about 10s of thousands of innocent, legal users of a streaming service is cause for concern. Americans believe strongly in their First Amendment rights and also the rights that protect against unreasonable search or seizure. The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) stated that the federal government’s actions in this case potentially violated the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Albert Fox-Cahn, executive director STOP, aptly captured the alarm surrounding these developments, stating, “No one should fear a knock at the door from police simply because of what the YouTube algorithm serves up. I’m horrified that the courts are allowing this.” 

Another recent report revealed that the FBI has been looking at Facebook posts “every day, all day long.” FBI agents visited Rolla Abdeljawad at her home in Stillwater, Oklahoma in response to anti-Israel posts that were made. The Oklahoma City FBI office recently clarified that the investigation didn’t occur just because of the anti-Israel posts but didn’t provide any more details. 

In the video that was released by Rolla Abdeljawad’s lawyer, the FBI agent said “Facebook gave us a couple of screenshots of your account.” Abdeljawad responded with “So we no longer live in a free country and we can’t say what we want?” The other FBI agent said that they are not there to arrest her; they do this every day to protect the public from harm. 

The Oklahoma City FBI agent said in her statement that “The FBI is committed to ensuring our activities are conducted with a valid law enforcement or national security purpose, while upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans.” 

The unanswered question is how and why the FBI received the screenshots from Facebook. The answer to that question would ultimately determine whether or not this was an unreasonable search and seizure that is a violation of the Fourth Amendment or using the authority of the federal government to toe the line of unconstitutional actions. 

Ironically, one of the Facebook posts that prompted the visit to Abdeljawad’s house stated, “Our community is being watched & they are just waiting for any reason to round us up.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently signed an executive order targeting the “rise of anti-semitism” on college campuses. The order asks universities to punish students who espouse anti-semitic views and to “ensure that groups such as the Palestine Solidarity Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine are disciplined for violating these policies.”

There are exceptions to free speech, such as defamation and threats. However, those laws already exist on the books. There is no need for an executive order that protects “hate speech” against one specific group of people, when threatening speech and defamation can happen against all groups of people. It has not been explained why Abbott has passed the law that asks for punishment for racial or ethnic bigotry towards one group, when most would argue that should be applied equally for all groups. 

The passing of the Patriot Act was done so to protect Americans in the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Many politicians and citizens recognized the violation of rights and the power grab that occurred on this basis. The same occurred during the pandemic, with unconstitutional vaccine mandates enacted on the basis of “protecting” citizens. 

The investigation of citizens for legal behavior on social media platforms is rightfully concerning to Americans who believe in the protections provided by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This type of investigation violates the protections provided by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, including the protection from unreasonable search and seizure and free speech. Punishment for free speech, no matter how hateful, is still a violation of the First Amendment. 

 

Steven Middendorp

Steven Middendorp is an investigative journalist, musician, and teacher. He has been a freelance writer and journalist for over 20 years. More recently, he has focused on issues dealing with corruption and negligence in the judicial system. He is a homesteading hobby farmer who encourages people to grow their own food, eat locally, and care for the land that provides sustenance to the community.

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