WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pushing back against the expansion of secret government surveillance programs and the chilling impact they have on lawful First Amendment activities, The Rutherford Institute is demanding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) disclose the details of a government program proposed by DHS in April 2018 that aims to track, monitor, catalog and mine content posted by social media “influencers.”
In filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Rutherford Institute attorneys are asking for all records relating to a “Media Monitoring Services” surveillance program that would create a “media influencer database” for content created and posted by journalists, editors, social media influencers, and bloggers. The Institute is asking for records and information on the program because of the chilling effect it will have on the First Amendment activities of the citizens targeted by the program.
“Government surveillance stifles dissent. The impact of this far-reaching surveillance is reduced trust, increased conformity, diminished civic participation and a populace cowed by fear,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “The Department of Homeland Security’s secret surveillance of social media influencers is not only antithetical to the principles of a free society, but will also have a chilling and deleterious effect on the ability of all Americans to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech.”
The National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) was a division of the Department of Homeland Security charged with reducing threats to the nation’s physical and cyber infrastructure. In 2018, NPPD was replaced with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Before it was replaced, NPPD issued a Statement of Work for “Media Monitoring Services.” The Statement of Work sought proposals from the private sector for the provision of “traditional and social media monitoring” services that would enable DHS “to monitor traditional news sources as well as social media, identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event.” DHS’s ultimate goal was to create an application allowing it to track, monitor and search the content of “media influencers.” This tracking would include online and traditional print and broadcast sources, social media, and foreign sources. It portends to analyze the coverage, conversations, and comments of subscribers taking place in these media. The program is meant to create a “media influencer database” comprised of “journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, and bloggers,” including “contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer (history).”
TRIVE, a company that is developing a search engine that could be affected by the monitoring program and wants to alert those subject to DHS surveillance as “media influencers,” asked The Rutherford Institute to assist it in obtaining information about the DHS program. Equally concerned about the influencer surveillance program’s chilling effect on online speech, Rutherford Institute attorneys filed a FOIA request with DHS asking for all contracts entered into under the Statement of Work, databases and lists of “media influencers” created under the Media Monitoring program, and records compiled about the media influencers. DHS is statutorily obligated to respond to the request by July 23, 2019.