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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.

Published: February 7, 2022

On Decem­ber 7, 2021, the Bren­nan Center submit­ted a request under the Free­dom of Inform­a­tion Act to the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity, 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).

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 depart­ment’s previ­ous social media monit­or­ing activ­it­ies illus­trate the urgent need for trans­par­ency regard­ing its use of third-party tools. In Febru­ary 2017, the DHS Inspector General raised concerns that DHS compon­ents, includ­ing ICE, had initi­ated pilots for social media screen­ing in immig­ra­tion proceed­ings — which DHS planned to expand — without estab­lish­ing criteria for meas­ur­ing their perform­ance or effect­ive­ness. More recently, an internal review report final­ized in Janu­ary 2021 (but not released publicly until the fall of 2021) uncovered that I&A employ­ees had inap­pro­pri­ately compiled intel­li­gence reports on a journ­al­ist based on his social media post­ings. The report also high­lights the diffi­culty of discern­ing actual threats from hyper­bole in social media posts, bring­ing the useful­ness of broad­scale social media monit­or­ing into ques­tion. Addi­tion­ally, the DHS Inspector General released a report in Septem­ber 2021, find­ing that CBP agents had improp­erly placed lookouts on U.S. citizens involved in the 2018–2019 migrant cara­van, includ­ing journ­al­ists, attor­neys, and activ­ists, based in part on inform­a­tion the agents uncovered on social media.  

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.

Read the FOIA request here.

Office of Intel­li­gence and Analysis

Updated Febru­ary 7, 2022: On Decem­ber 7, 2021, I&A acknow­ledged its receipt of the Bren­nan Center’s FOIA request. On Janu­ary 5, 2022, the Bren­nan Center reached out to I&A after the office missed its dead­line to respond to the FOIA request. On Janu­ary 12, 2022, I&A informed the Bren­nan Center that it would invoke a ten-day exten­sion to respond to the request.

Immig­ra­tion and Customs Enforce­ment

Updated Febru­ary 7, 2022: On Janu­ary 13, 2022, ICE sent a letter to the Bren­nan Center acknow­ledging the FOIA request.  

Customs and Border Protec­tion

Updated Febru­ary 7, 2022: On Decem­ber 15, 2021, CBP sent the Bren­nan Center a letter acknow­ledging its receipt of the FOIA request. On Janu­ary 18, 2022, CBP informed the Bren­nan Center that the request had been desig­nated as “not an agency record,” and that it would there­fore close the request. On Janu­ary 21, 2022, CBP informed the Bren­nan Center that it had referred the FOIA request to ICE after determ­in­ing that the records sought “are not under the purview of U.S. Customs and Border Protec­tion.” We are eval­u­at­ing next steps and will update this page with any further devel­op­ments.

Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity

Updated Febru­ary 7, 2022: On Decem­ber 7, 2021, DHS acknow­ledged its receipt of the Bren­nan Center’s FOIA request. On Decem­ber 9, 2021, DHS sent the Bren­nan Center a final response letter, stat­ing that it would forward the FOIA request to I&A, and closed the request.