Published on January 30th, 2012 | by Steven Hodson


Note to Twitter users: Department of Homeland Security doesn’t believe in freedom of speech

Use to making off the cuff quips on Twitter that you think are clever or even funny and nonsensical?

Well you might want to rethink that especially if you tend to travel in or out of the United States since it seems that the Department of Homeland Security has a totally different outlook when it comes to what freedom of speech means.

For you and me it means being able to blow off steam among friends, either online or off. We do this by making smart-ass comments or sending out seemingly normal messages to people who understand what you are saying.

The only problem is that the Department of Homeland Security, and probably other law enforcement agencies as well, has no sense of humor and wouldn’t understand a smart-ass comment if it jumped up and bit it on the ass.

Unfortunately British tourists Leigh Van Bryan and Emily Bunting found this out the hard way after being stopped at the border on their arrival, questioned for five hours, thrown in jail, then sent back to Britain after being told they were not going to be allowed into the U.S.

The reason for this treatment?

Van Bryan had tweeted from his home in Britain that he was looking forward to hitting the US for a visit and joked about digging up Marilyn Monroe and ‘destroying’ America (note: destroy is also a British slang term for serious partying).

As agents sent the two tourists packing back to Britain they cave them the following document as to why they were being kicked out of the country:


Fell that chill crawling up your spine yet?

Of course we all remember the incident back in 2010 when Paul Chambers in a moment of frustration over his travel plans being messed up due to a major snowstorm quipped on Twitter about giving the airport a week to get its act together or he would blow it up. Well that earned him a visit from British security, arrest under the Terrorist Act, suspended from his job and then banned for life from the airport in Doncaster in England.

Now we have news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seeking developers to come up with a custom application that will let the agency better monitor social networks as a whole, no word on if they will be coding in an understanding of what the hell humor and sarcasm is.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the need for agencies to monitor networks like these and for the most part have no problem with it. Where I do have a problem is when agencies like the Department of Homeland Security can take something so obvious so badly out of context; in the way that they did with Van Bryan and Bunting, and possibly ruin two people’s lives over something that could have been so easily dealt with.

The reality here is that while we might like to believe that freedom of speech, without any repercussions, exists on the Web, and social networks like Twitter, the facts are exactly the opposite and it is only going to get worse. Where we once could log into Twitter or Facebook and fee free to say what we wanted, to express ourselves without any governmental interference we know have to wonder if some innocent word like ‘destroy’ is going to get us a visit from a security agency.

It seems that every day that goes by this concept of freedom of speech, no matter how lauded by politicians, is becoming an anachronism, a quaint belief held by the ignorant or the stupid.

via GigaOM / VentureBeat /top image courtesy of Twittonary Blog



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About the Author

Steven has been around the tech world long enough to see most of the stuff we think of cool happen before which leads to a certain bit of cynicism that has contributed to him being known as the cranky old fart of the Internet. Besides sharing some of the goodness that he finds with you here at 42x you can also find him curating some digital goodness at Winextra (tech type stuff) and Rotten Gumdrops (for your daily dose of WTF).

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