U.S. immigration officials sought to expand their abilities to monitor and surveil social media activity and allowed officers to create and use fake social media profiles in a wide range of operations, including covertly researching the online presence of people seeking immigration benefits, the Guardian reports. Authorities within several Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration agencies, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have repeatedly discussed using “aliases”, or undercover online accounts for investigations, according to records obtained through an open records request by the Brennan Center for Justice. Officials have also expressed concern about social media sites’ policies that prohibit the use of fake profiles and discussed bypassing those rules. The records didn’t specify which online platforms officers were using, but for many, including Facebook, the use of aliases and fake profiles, including by government agencies, is a direct violation of its terms of service agreement.
DHS’s practices were so concerning that a representative from the company contacted the agency warning of a potential breach in the social network’s rules. The DHS files, which date back several years, are likely to raise alarms from civil rights groups, given the agency already has a vast surveillance network that allows it to track migrants and at times U.S. citizens, whether by accessing location data from tech companies, buying user information from data brokers or utilizing facial recognition. The revelations come amid growing privacy concerns about how law enforcement monitors online activity and collects and shares people’s data, in some cases without a warrant or subpoena. Police have used fake accounts to spy on Black Lives Matter protesters; pose as ordinary citizens and post comments attacking law enforcement critics; and send Facebook friend requests to targets of their investigations and then gather personal information without a judge’s approval for the digital search. Facebook officials have publicly objected to the practice by the police departments of Los Angeles and Memphis.