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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.