A lengthy investigation by the Brennan Center for Justice (BCJ) has revealed that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) routinely employs fake social media accounts to collect information on individuals, often with minimal oversight. BCJ initiated this multi-year inquiry in 2018 under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) after encountering resistance from DHS.
Furthermore, the investigation uncovered the use of at least 14 “social media operational use templates” that enable DHS officers to obscure their affiliation while conducting investigations, with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employing “masked monitoring” of individuals as one example.
The documents obtained through FOIA requests shed light on a practice that has long been cloaked in secrecy, with DHS using social media data to screen visa applications, predict potential threats, and monitor First Amendment-protected activities.
BCJ’s findings raise concerns about the protection of privacy rights. The investigation unveiled a total of 35 social media templates that DHS agencies must submit for approval before engaging in social media activities.
These documents paint a picture of a department heavily focused on enabling its agents to conceal their identities while using popular platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.
Notably, Facebook’s policy mandates users to provide their real names, and the platform has cautioned law enforcement against hiding behind anonymous accounts.
BCJ found that 12 out of the 14 templates that allow agents to conceal their DHS affiliation explicitly authorize the use of fake accounts, a tactic predominantly employed by agencies like ICE and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate.