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Brennan Center Files Freedom of Information Act Request for Information on DHS’s Night Fury Project

The Brennan Center for Justice filed a public records request seeking information on a DHS research and development project that sought to “identify potential terrorism risks” on social media

Published: April 1, 2022

On March 18, 2022, the Bren­nan Center submit­ted a request under the Free­dom of Inform­a­tion Act (FOIA) to the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity (DHS) and the DHS Science and Tech­no­logy Direct­or­ate (S&T) for inform­a­tion on project Night Fury, which was conduc­ted by S&T’s Office of Science and Engin­eer­ing (OSE).

What little inform­a­tion is publicly avail­able about Night Fury was revealed in a DHS Inspector General (IG) report released on March 7, 2022. The IG’s invest­ig­a­tion began after the office received a tip regard­ing poten­tial privacy viol­a­tions pertain­ing to the Night Fury Project, which began in Septem­ber 2018 and cost $443,000. Accord­ing to the IG’s report, OSE sought through Night Fury to develop capab­il­it­ies to “identify poten­tial terror­ism risks” on social media and other open-source plat­forms. As part of the project, OSE contrac­ted an uniden­ti­fied univer­sity to collect social media data. The complaint to the IG alleged that the project “specific­ally included data collec­tion of millions of social media records, includ­ing posts, videos, and photos.”

The Bren­nan Center has warned, on multiple occa­sions, about the hazards of using social media to predict who will commit an act of terror­ism or another viol­ent act. These efforts have included:

  • An over­view and analysis of the ways in which federal law enfor­ce­­ment and intel­li­­gence agen­­cies use social media monit­or­ing and the risks posed by its thinly regu­lated and grow­ing use.
  • letter urging DHS Secret­ary Alejandro Mayor­kas to review the depart­ment’s wide­spread surveil­lance and use of social media, joined by more than 20 allied organ­iz­a­tions.
  • report on DHS’s use of social media for invest­ig­a­tions, vetting, and more.
  • A success­ful campaign oppos­ing ICE’s search for an auto­mated tool that would monitor Twit­ter, Face­­book, and the rest of inter­­net to auto­mat­ic­ally flag people for deport­a­­tion or visa denial.   
  • state­ment of civil rights concerns about the use of social media by law enforce­ment, signed by over 50 civil soci­ety organ­iz­a­tions.
  • Multiple public comments to DHS and the Depart­ment of State, oppos­ing the agen­cies’ propos­als to collect social media iden­ti­fi­ers and conduct social media monit­or­ing programs.

It is crit­ical that the public under­stand how the govern­ment seeks to use social media to make predic­tions and monitor Amer­ic­ans. The Bren­nan Center will publish the docu­ments it receives as a result of this FOIA; if the Night Fury project is ongo­ing, we expect to advoc­ate against its contin­ued oper­a­tion.

Read the FOIA request here.

Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity

Updated April 1, 2022: On March 18, 2022, DHS acknow­ledged its receipt of the Bren­nan Center’s FOIA request.