Florida senator and 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio suggested using technology designed to analyze consumers’ behavior online to track potential terrorists in a speech Monday focused on national security.
“When we talk about intelligence, we don’t just need the existing tools, we need additional tools,” Rubio told a crowd at the American Legion in Hooksett, New Hampshire. “You may not like this, you may not even be aware of this, but companies in America know more about you than you know. They know what magazines you subscribe to, they know what kind of cable package or DirecTV package you have, they know what you shop for online — there’s all sorts of consumer information about Americans.”
“I’ll give you pretty bluntly — Americans companies know more about you and your behavior and what you’re likely to buy than the government will ever know about you.”
Rubio said such technology — used to tailor advertising to specific consumers — could and should be used to look for extremist behavior online that could suggest the radicalization of future would-be attackers in the U.S., and put them on law enforcement and intelligence agency radar before they have the opportunity to connect, organize and carry out attacks like the one in San Bernardino last month.
“Because they apply this technology to your behavior and from it, they predict what you’re going to do or what you’re likely to buy,” Rubio said. “That technology is real. What I’m saying is, we need to apply that sort of thing to terrorists.”
Terrorist groups including the Islamic State have ramped up their use of social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, over the last year in an attempt to radicalize Muslims in Western nations to carry out home-grown attacks like those in France and California.
Agencies including the FBI report such activity is growing at a rapid rate in the U.S., where every FBI field office is currently conducting a related investigation according to recent congressional testimony from FBI Director James Comey.
“There are certain patterns that people that are being radicalized behave,” Rubio said. “And you can do this without watching any of you because none of you are doing that. Nobody here is watching ISIS videos every night. Nobody here is searching websites to be radicalized. You wouldn’t pop up in that, but there are certain behavioral trackers that exist, especially from people abroad.”
Rubio, one of the staunchest surveillance hawks in the Senate vowing to reinstate surveillance powers Congress scaled back in the aftermath of the Snowden disclosures, used the proposal to slam the Obama administration, which the Florida senator alleged “deliberately weakened America.”
“We have a president that’s actually protecting the privacy rights of foreigners, even if they are plotting against Americans,” Rubio said. “So we need to be creative and innovative about this issue because it’s a very serious one. The use of social media, the ability to radicalize people online, is a threat we have never faced before.”
The 2016 presidential contender, who’s hovered around third in the polls alongside Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz but behind Donald Trump, reiterated 28-year-old Syed Farook, one of the two shooters that killed 14 in San Bernardino in December in an Islamic State-inspired attack, was an American citizen.
“One of the two San Bernardino killers was an American citizen, born and raised in the United States of America, had an infant child, was a health inspector. This is not someone whose bio you would read and say, ‘that’s a terrorist,’” Rubio said. “And yet somehow was radicalized — probably online — and was willing to kill and massacre 14 Americans, and was on his way to killing more people had it not been for the brave men and women of law enforcement who stopped them.”
“We have to be able to identify this before it happens in the future,” he continued. “I believe we are capable of identifying people like this and stopping them, without violating your privacy rights, without violating your civil liberties, because you’re not the target — they are, and it is their behavior that stands out from yours.”
Rubio said his seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee has afforded him a “weekly” consistent view on the growing threat the issue poses, and added it would be his “top priority” as president.
“I see the information we have and I shudder to think the information we don’t have anymore,” Rubio said, “because they figured out how we collect intelligence and therefore, are able to hide it from us.”
The freshman senator slammed his Senate colleagues, including Cruz, for voting to weaken National Security Surveillance powers last year, and reiterated Congress’ needs to address the growing adoption of encrypted communications platforms, which Paris investigators recently said were used to plan the assaults across the French capital in November.
“I will not only restore the intelligence programs Obama and Congress have destroyed, I will strengthen them,” Rubio said in his prepared remarks. “Because ISIS does not use carrier pigeons to communicate. They use sophisticated encryption and carefully secured networks. It was already difficult to infiltrate them, now it is even harder. If ISIS had lobbyists in Washington, they would have spent millions to support the anti-intelligence law that was just passed with the help of some Republicans now running for president.”