Brennan Center Files FOIA Request for Information on DHS Social Media Screening Software
On September 5, 2017, the Brennan Center for Justice filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seeking records concerning social media screening pilot programs used by DHS to target travelers.
Social media screening software offers the ability to constantly analyze people’s online activities. The tools can search for, read, interpret, categorize, and archive posts from popular social media sites. Many of the services also allow keyword- and location-specific search options across multiple sites.
In February 2017, DHS' Office of the Inspector General released a report evaluating the effectiveness of these social media screening pilot programs targeting travelers. The report concluded that DHS may not be “measuring and evaluating the pilots’ results to determine how well they are performing.” The use of these and other social media screening programs by the federal government is of significant public concern. In the absence of adequate measurement criteria, the implications for individuals’ privacy and First Amendment rights, as well as the possibility of errors or misinterpretations, are great. There is currently little transparency regarding when and how federal agencies use social media screening, how such use is overseen, and how the resulting information is used, retained, and shared. Accordingly, the Brennan Center sought information about the nature of the social media screening pilot programs used by DHS.
The Brennan Center has previously reported on the rising use of similar tools by local law enforcement agencies. To see if local law enforcement agencies in your area have purchased this kind of software, see the Brennan Center’s Map of Social Media Monitoring by Police Departments, Cities, and Counties.