YOU ARE BEING WATCHED… EPIC (1) has been analyzing law enforcement’s monitoring of social networks and online media for years. EPIC obtained documents (see links below) that reveal that the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) is monitoring social network and media organizations.
For example, from testimony by EPIC to Congress: “These documents reveal that the agency had paid over $11 million to General Dynamics, to engage in monitoring of social networks and media organizations and to prepare summary reports for DHS. According to DHS documents, General Dynamics will “Monitor public social communications on the Internet,” including the public comment sections of NYT, LA Times, Huff Po, Drudge, Wired’s tech blogs, ABC News. DHS also requested monitoring of Wikipedia pages for changes and announced its plans to set up social network profiles to monitor social network users.”
According to the DHS itself, DHS merely announced that it would do this in the Federal Register. DHS document: “The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (“OPS”) National Operations Center (“NOC”), has proposed to establish a new system of records. The “Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative System of Records” will gather information from “online forums, blogs, public websites, and message boards,” store and analyze the information gathered, and then “disseminate relevant and appropriate de-identified information to federal, state, local, and foreign governments and private sector partners.” (Department of Homeland Security Office Operations Coordination and Planning – 004 Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative System of Records, 76 Federal Register 5603 Feb. 1, 2011)
As a result of the Obama administration’s pervasive corruption, for example, Susan Rice’s sharing of “de-identified” wire taps on the Trump campaign, we now know that “de-identification” is not protection, but rather a tool of spy craft.
This is not a minor one-off program. EPIC submitted a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request to the DHS seeking agency records detailing the media monitoring program. When the DHS failed to comply with FOIA’s legal deadlines, EPIC filed suit. As a result of this lawsuit, DHS disclosed to EPIC 285 pages of documents, including statements of work, contracts, and other agency records related to social network and media monitoring.
DHS has not established any legal basis for this program. News media reports indicate that the DHS is not the only agency engaging in this sort of monitoring. Recent news stories confirm that the FBI has also been developing a similar social network and media monitoring program.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against the government, but the government continues its illegal programs: “Government programs that threaten important First Amendment rights are immediately suspect and should only be undertaken where the government can demonstrate a compelling interest that cannot be satisfied in other way.” (5)
(1) The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is a non-partisan, public interest research organization established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues. EPIC works to promote government accountability and transparency particularly with respect to activities that implicate Constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms. EPIC has been analyzing law enforcement monitoring of social networks and online media for several years.
(3) DHS Social Media Monitoring Documents, available at: http://epic.org/foia/epic-v-dhs-mediamonitoring/
EPIC-FOIA-DHS-Media-Monitoring-12-2012.pdf; see e.g. Charlie Savage, Federal Contractor
Monitored Social Network Sites, The New York Times, Jan. 13, 2012, available at:
Vijayan, DHS Media Monitoring Could Chill Public Dissent, EPIC Warns, Computerworld Jan. 16, 2012,
PIC_warns; Ellen Nakashima, DHS Monitoring of Social Media Concerns Civil Liberties Advocates,
Washington Post, Jan. 13, 2012, available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/dhsmonitoring-
(4) Marcus Wohlson, FBI Seeks Digital Tool to Mine Entire Universe of Social Media, Chicago Sun Times,
Associated Press, Feb. 12, 2012, available at: http://www.usatoday.com/USCP/PNI/Nation/World/2012-02-
(5) See e.g. NAACP v. Button, 83 S.Ct. 328 (1963); Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm’n, 130 S. Ct. 876