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DHS Reveals Super Bowl Surveillance Techniques -- Sort Of

The Super Bowl XLIX logo is displayed on the University of Phoenix Stadium, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz.

The Super Bowl XLIX logo is displayed on the University of Phoenix Stadium, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. // Charlie Riedel/AP

The Secret Service will be searching social media messages this Sunday to discern between real and bogus threats during the Super Bowl, according to Department of Homeland Security officials. But agents will not be using sarcasm-detecting software they have expressed an interest in buying, the agency said. 

Social media-tracking technology is just one piece of surveillance gear the government will deploy for the face-off between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

In addition, DHS and the Pentagon will be "providing airspace security around the venue," DHS officials said Wednesday afternoon. "No drones," DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee told Nextgov

DHS cybersecurity professionals paid to try hacking into systems have been probing Internet-connected devices at the stadium to check for weaknesses that miscreants could breach. Department officials would not comment on any specific systems being tested, though we hope they're securing instant replay feeds and any equipment that could be used to, say, deflate a football.   

Also, the Secret Service will conduct "open-source social media monitoring for situational awareness," officials said. As Nextgov first reported last summer, the agency has been shopping for software that can identify sarcasm, among other things.

"We aren't doing that," Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donavan said Wednesday. The agency, however, will continuously screen activities on social media sites, including Al Jazeera Blog and Facebook, using search terms, such as "black out," in accordance with DHS privacy guidelines, Lee confirmed. 

Airspace restrictions will be enforced by F-16 Fighting Falcons and helicopters, according to Defense Department and DHS officials. 

Other high-tech equipment DHS is relying on to keep spectators safe:

  • The public-awareness campaign, “If You See Something, Say Something” for the first time will remind citizens to report suspicious activity through in-app advertising on NFL mobile apps. Campaign messaging will appear on smartphones located in Arizona on the Game Day and NFL Experience apps.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency is supplying roving command centers, trucks that can sustain mobile telecommunications and power generation in the event of a disaster.
  • A network of BioWatch detectors will collect and screen air samples for agents that could signal a potential biological attack.  
  • The 24-7 National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center led a training exercise with venues involved in the Super Bowl. 

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