What’s In Your Search History?

You might not see the connection between the tweet above and what I was responding to, below. Or you might:

US agencies concerned with security — Homeland Security, as above, and others like the good ol’ FBI and CIA and NSA — have been getting notably nosier over the last couple of generations, and especially over the last fifteen years because of a certain incident around 15 years ago toward the end of 2001.

So we end up with Homeland Security nosing around the identity of people commenting on the internet, where, let’s face it, actual terrorists have in fact exchanged messages coordinating terrorism. On the other hand, for every genuine terrorist, there are probably ten thousand assholes shooting off their typing-mouths.

I figure it’s only a matter of time (if it hasn’t happened already) that some poor writer gets pulled in over the contents of their search history:

What’s in your search history? Regular old curious people have some pretty suspicious stuff in there, by and large. And if you’re a writer? We look up all sorts of stuff for stories. How many of you who have written fiction have searches like “how much blood is in a human body” or “what would it take to make the Hoover Dam collapse” in your writing past?

I’m not about to stop writing, nor am I about to stop researching for writing. But imagine how incredibly awkward defending your browsing history would be even if you’re not a writer.





3 thoughts on “What’s In Your Search History?

Add yours

  1. I agree with your point, but don’t you think it would be more about sharing and communicating than just searching?
    Maybe it would be for lone gunman scenarios that an individual researching would be targeted for surveillance.

    1. I certainly do think that sharing and communicating — or actually credibly planning a real criminal act — would be way more trouble for an author and his/her search history than just searching.

      On the other hand, there have been past pushes from sundry law-enforcement and national security concerned agencies to do things like monitor what books are checked out in libraries, or monitor discussion forums and blog comments (HI MOM I’M ON NSA TV *waves*) and messaging software for ‘terrorist keywords’ and/or ‘drug trafficking keywords’ and/or ‘insert your own partially legitimate concern that doesn’t really make sense if you’re not a suspect.’

      In short, what you say makes sense. But agents of our government have been pretty consistent in nosing around the communications of everyone to see who is discussing and searching what. Search histories are part of that communication, in this case between you and your search engine. So if you do a search for “How did Timothy McVeigh build the bomb he used on the federal building in Oklahoma City” and then dig around in the links for an answer, because you’re writing a story involving a terrorist who wants to bomb a federal building, the government clearly wants to know about it so they can keep an eye on you.

      Which makes you a suspect. Even if you’re not formally a suspect.

      It’s a tricky subject. Yes, doubtless some crimes could be stopped with such surveillance.

      On the other hand, is it worth violating the civil rights of millions of citizens on the grounds that doing so occasionally reveals information relating to individuals whose behavior, as we saw in the Boston Marathon bombing case and 9/11, already had made them objects of suspicion and investigation, which still failed to halt those terrible crimes?

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