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DHS says it is observing privacy rules in monitoring social media

DHS’s efforts to monitor social media, like Twitter, Facebook and blogs for suspicious traffic strictly observes federal privacy rules, said a report issued by the departmnt on Nov. 8.

The Nov. 8 privacy compliance review said a series of pilot-specific Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA) documented the standards and procedures that were used in pilot programs.

“The DHS Privacy Office found that OPS/NOC continues to be in compliance with the privacy requirements identified in the January 2011 PIA Update and the February 2011 SORN [Privacy Act System of Records Act Notice],” said the report.

The report said the agency’s efforts to monitor traditional media sources and, more recently, social media sources like Twitter, Facebook, and a vast number of blogs provided a broader view of public reports on breaking events with a potential nexus to homeland security. It said its three Media Monitoring Capability (MMC) programs, launched by the Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS), National Operations Center (NOC), began in January, 2010.

The pilots were launched, it said, to keep track of news from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. “Prior to implementation of each social media pilot, the DHS Privacy Office and OPS developed detailed standards and procedures for reviewing information on social media web sites,” said the report.

Despite the report’s assurances, privacy groups said they would continue their legal efforts to stop the program.  The Department of Homeland Security released a Privacy Compliance Review which found that the DHS social media monitoring program complied the DHS's own privacy requirements,” said the Electronic Privacy Information Center on Nov. 9. “Documents obtained by EPIC through a FOIA lawsuit revealed that DHS is monitoring social networks and media organizations for criticism of the agency,” it said, noting that congress held a hearing earlier this year to investigate why DHS is tracking political statements on Twitter and social networks. “EPIC's lawsuit against DHS is ongoing,” it said.

The DHS report said while it had obtained personally identifiable information (PII) ” in a very limited number of situations in order to respond to the evolving operational needs of OPS/NOC,” it was complying “with requirements not to actively seek PII in its reporting and has established an official profile on Twitter that complies with PIA requirements.”

From March 1, 2012, to August 31, 2012, the report said the OPS/NOC distributed 9,338 MMC reports of which 770 (eight percent) contained authorized PII within permitted categories of individuals identified in the February 2011 SORN, said the report.