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Brennan Center Files Freedom of Information Act Requests for Information on DHS’s Use of Social Media Monitoring Tools

The Brennan Center for Justice filed FOIA requests with DHS and three of its components seeking information about their use of tools from Voyager Labs, ShadowDragon, and Logically Inc.

Last Updated: December 12, 2023
Published: February 7, 2022

On December 7, 2021, the Brennan Center submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for information on the purchase and use of tools developed by Voyager Labs, ShadowDragon, and Logically Inc. to monitor social media. On December 9, 2021, the Brennan Center submitted an identical request to Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

On August 18, 2022, the Brennan Center sued DHS and ICE for their inadequate response to our request and failure to produce responsive documents. With our lawsuit, we are asking the court to compel the agencies to fulfill their obligations under FOIA. On September 12, 2022, the Brennan Center amended its complaint to reflect updated information regarding I&A’s search for records. We are represented pro bono in this matter by Davis Wright Tremaine.

Read the FOIA request here.

Read the amended complaint here.

Social media monitoring refers to the use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to gather information about people, groups, or activities. Publicly available records indicate DHS engages vendors to support its social media monitoring efforts. For example, an article in the Intercept revealed that ICE had two contracts for ShadowDragon products. The Brennan Center located a third contract from ICE to purchase ShadowDragon products, specifically OI Monitor and SocialNet. Another company, Voyager Labs, markets its materials as useful for issue areas in which DHS operates — including matters in its exclusive authority, like border security. In addition, DHS officials have stated publicly that the Department is seeking third-party vendors to enhance its social media monitoring efforts in the wake of the January 6, 2021, insurrection. While those vendors have not been definitively identified, DHS has had at least preliminary conversations with Logically Inc.

The public lacks adequate information about DHS’s current social media monitoring capabilities and operations. The Brennan Center seeks information from DHS, I&A, ICE, and CBP about recordkeeping, purchase agreements, use, audits, communications, trainings, legal justifications, information sharing communications, nondisclosure agreements, vendor communications, and internal communications regarding products and services created by ShadowDragon, Voyager Labs, or Logically Inc.

ICE and I&A began to produce records in December 2022, and their productions remain ongoing. On December 12, 2023, we released some of the records that we obtained as part of our lawsuit, and plan to release further documents in the future.

Produced Documents

The Brennan Center obtained two contracts revealing that ICE purchased licenses for ShadowDragon’s SocialNet tool for the agency’s law enforcement and investigative arm, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). These contracts, signed in June 2020 and August 2021, cost nearly $900,000 together. According to ShadowDragon, SocialNet users can analyze ShadowDragon’s vast cache of data collected from over 200 sources, including social media, to “[d]iscover and visualize networks of bad actors.” An ICE procurement document represented that SocialNet could uncover and create visualizations of individuals’ online networks, which HSI envisioned using to “uncover aliases, associates and gather inferences of lifestyle and physical location of threats.”

We also obtained a contract from June 2021 reflecting HSI’s purchase of another ShadowDragon tool, OIMonitor, for approximately $171,250. Through this contract, HSI had access to OIMonitor between July 2021 and June 2022, which the agency had the option to extend for three additional years. Though we did not obtain records showing that HSI extended its contract beyond June 2022, public procurement data suggests that HSI extended its contract until at least June 2023. According to a Statement of Need justifying HSI’s purchase of OIMonitor, the tool provides users with alerts based on information that it automatically gathers from online sources according to users’ customized search parameters; HSI stated this function would enhance its capabilities “for both cyber or physical criminal investigations and social media forensics.”

The Brennan Center also obtained several reports that compile the results of ICE’s queries using a ShadowDragon tool, though it is unclear if these reports were generated using SocialNet or OIMonitor. The reports are highly redacted, and the Brennan Center did not obtain information about the investigations or inquiries they were produced for. The reports demonstrate, however, that ShadowDragon collects vast amounts of information from social media, including Facebook, Twitter (now X), and Instagram, and connects it to other information in its data holdings, such as email addresses, online banking accounts like PenPal and Venmo, among others.