The digital age has complicated the balance between national security and personal freedoms. Proponents of national security point to the U.K.’s ‘snooper’s charter,’ but the U.S. has been allocating surveillance power to its government as well. In 2013, the National Defense Authorization Act repealed an act that forbids domestic propaganda, prompting U.S. citizens to wonder why it became legal.
Media outlets have flourished by offering content for a multitude of devices that have become essential for day to day life. In the U.S., those outlets were mostly privately owned businesses. The 2013 NDAA amendment changed that dynamic.
The NDAA is an annual act presented before the U.S. House of Representatives. Each year the law determines the budget and expenditures for the Department of Defense, but it also includes other provisions, and 2013 brought a provision that allowed the government to broadcast the media that it distributes in countries around the world. This effectively gives the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) media broadcasting capabilities and nullifies a previous law disallowing them from attempting to influence U.S. public opinion.
” the amendment is part of an effort of senior leaders to allow the direct deployment of Information Operations (IO) tactics on the American public.”
The NDAA of 2013 and its Implications
Representatives Mac Thornberry and Adam Smith proposed the 2013 NDAA. Its passage nullified the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which forbade the government to operate with the goal of influencing U.S. public opinion. Without that limitation, the DoD can supersede mainstream media to release their own news.
According to Lt. Col Daniel Davis, the amendment is part of an effort of senior leaders to allow the direct deployment of Information Operations (IO) tactics on the American public. IO operations include the employment of such tactics as electronic warfare, psychological operations, and military deception, so there is a cause for concern in putting this much power into the hands of the U.S. Government. Despite this concern, Texas House Representative Mac Thornberry assured the public that “This gives Americans the chance to see what the State Department is saying to people all over the world.”
Repealing the Smith-Mundt Act may have an adverse impact on the American public as data research enhances media’s prevalence in the average citizen’s life.
Concerns for the Future
IO operations alone is enough to make an internet freedom advocate shiver. Yet, combine that with advances in surveillance technology, and you have something in which everyone should take notice.
For example, AI technology can process enormous amounts of data thanks to deep learning neural networks. As these networks analyze, they are better able to understand greater context and as a result, they develop better methods for solving given problems.
This could be a powerful tool for State controlled media to assess the ideal form for propaganda. Even the amount of personal information on social media sites such as Facebook can be an invaluable aid in gathering information on public opinion.
U.S. citizens have a duty to be aware of potential that the 2013 NDAA allows. Given the media-savvy incoming President-elect Trump, one can only speculate over whether domestic propaganda will remain legal or not.