A Freedom of Information Act request by privacy watchdogs revealed the Department of Homeland Security surveilled social networks during President Obama's inauguration as well as an effort to use social networks to investigate citizenship petitions.
The subject of federal surveillance of social networks
has come up again, this time prompted by new government documents unearthed by privacy watchdogs.
The documents, which were revealed due to a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request filed by
EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) with the help of UC Berkeley's
Samuelson Clinic. According to the documents, the DHS (Department of
Homeland Security) established a "Social Networking Monitoring Center"
to collect and analyze online, public communication for "items of
interest" during U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009.
In addition, the documents also show the government using social
networks to investigate citizenship petitions. Specifically, a 2008
memo by the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) entitled
-Social Networking Sites and Their Importance to FDNS' (Office of Fraud
Detection and National Security) instructs USCIS agents to "attempt to
"friend" citizenship petitioners and their beneficiaries on social
networks in the hope that these users will (perhaps inadvertently)
allow agents to monitor their activities for evidence of suspected
fraud," blogged EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch.
"Of course, there are good reasons for government agencies and law
enforcement officials to use all the tools at their disposal, including
social networks, to ferret out fraud and other illegal conduct," she
added. "And while one might just chalk this up to another case of
'caveat friendster,' it does raise some questions about the agency's
conduct. First, the memo makes no mention of what level of suspicion,
if any, an agent must find before conducting such surveillance, leaving
every applicant as a potential target... Second, and perhaps more
disturbing, the memo assumes a user's online profile always accurately
reflects her offline life."
The DHS initiative, she blogged, is concerning due to the breadth of the sites being targeted.
"For example, among the key 'Candidates for Analysis' were general
social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Flickr as
well as sites that focus specifically on certain demographic groups
such as MiGente and BlackPlanet, news sites such as NPR, and political
commentary sites DailyKos," she noted.
"According to the slides, [the Social Networking Monitoring Center]
looks for "-items of interest" in the routine of social networking
posts on the events, organizations, activities, and environment" of
important events," she continued. "While the slides indicate that DHS
scrutinized the information and emphasized the need to look at credible
sources, evidence, and corroboration, they also suggest the DHS
collected a massive amount of data on individuals and organizations
explicitly tied to a political event."
This is not the first time the issue of how intelligence and police
social networks has come up. The issue was raised earlier this year
when the EFF got hold of a document from the U.S. Department of Justice
discussing the use of social networking sites by law enforcement
agencies to obtain evidence and conduct undercover operations.