recommended reading

DHS program to monitor social media users draws lawsuit

Privacy advocates are suing the Homeland Security Department to obtain information on a program that monitors the social media interactions of citizens following a federal vendor's private sector plans to sabotage certain groups' online activities with similar technology.

Homeland Security officials have expanded an ongoing initiative that tracks public online communications in the interests of public safety, according a February DHS notice.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center on Tuesday filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act that seeks all government communications with contractors related to the program. The request was prompted by a leak of planning emails from government contractor HB Gary describing project proposals for a private firm to monitor and discredit the online activities of Americans, such as labor union leaders. Other emails in the cache showed that an HB Gary executive was planning a special training session with Homeland Security officials. Hacker activists from the loosely organized collective Anonymous released the communications.

EPIC is demanding records on contracts and communications between DHS and HB Gary that mention the use of social media monitoring, according to the group's FOIA request. The privacy organization also is asking for information on the technical capabilities of tools Homeland Security uses to scan social media networks. And EPIC officials want to see DHS personnel training materials for the project.

At the time DHS announced the data collection, department officials intended to follow online forums, blogs, public websites and message boards for data that would be kept on record for five years.

Government officials can create user accounts on these sites "for monitoring that supports providing situational awareness and establishing a common operating picture," the February announcement said. The notice, however, stated the DHS program would not "actively seek to connect" with social network users, accept invitations to befriend or otherwise interact with users on sites.

Routine uses of the program include sharing data with contractors that are supporting DHS projects, as well as "an agency, organization or individual when there could potentially be a risk of harm to an individual," Homeland Security officials said.

Typically, DHS staff will strike any information that can identify an individual by name when exchanging it with others. Exceptions include potential life and death situations, when it is necessary to disclose the name and location of a person who, for example, claims to be buried under rubble or hiding in a hotel overtaken by terrorists.

The DHS program can observe American and foreign private sector officials who make statements online, as well as government officials who communicate publicly, according to the notice. The gleaned information also can be shared with the Justice Department for litigation, or other governmental agencies to respond to disasters and track the spread of disease or other health threats.

Homeland Security officials declined to comment.

Threatwatch Alert

Network intrusion

FBI Warns Doctors, Dentists Their FTP Servers Are Targets

See threatwatch report

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.