Americans have a right to know how the federal government is collecting and using their social media information, according to a new lawsuit.
In American Civil Liberties Union v. Department of Justice, the ACLU alleges law enforcement agencies are collecting massive amounts of data from social media users. The agencies include the Justice Department, Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
It is a known fact that government agents monitor online communications. But the lawsuit asks, what are they doing with it?
According to reports, the FBI hired a data analytics firm to help "instantly search and monitor" social media activities. Online public records show the FBI "parses and analyzes" the social media data.
The ACLU asked the FBI for the records, but the government responded in 2018 that it could "neither confirm nor deny" the existence of its social media surveillance. ACLU lawyers Hugh Handeyside and Matt Cagle said the surveillance is "particularly troubling" in light of government tracking over decades.
"Aside from chilling expression, government monitoring of social media raises the risk that innocent people will be wrongly investigated or put on government watchlists based on that speech," they said.
The lawyers said social media surveillance "feeds the discriminatory real world targeting of black people, immigrants, religious minority communities, and political dissidents."
"It's unacceptable for the government to withhold details about this domestic spying," Cagle said.