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CDT Files Lawsuit Against DHS for Information on Social Media Monitoring at the Border

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) is suing the Department of Homeland Security for failure to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests about how the government monitors and uses social media data in its immigration and naturalization work.

“The public deserves to know how the government scrutinizes social media data when deciding who can enter or stay in the country,” says CDT General Counsel Avery Gardiner. “Government surveillance has necessary limits, particularly constitutional ones.”

The lawsuit was filed in a Washington, D.C. federal court last week after the administration failed to respond to CDT’s FOIA requests for more than a year. DHS collects, reviews, and uses social media data to inform its decisions about who may travel, enter, and stay in the United States, and who may, ultimately, become a U.S. citizen. It’s been reported that border officials have refused entry to visa holders based solely on what their social media connections have posted online.

“While we remain willing to work with the government on a reasonable schedule to turn over this material, it’s been more than a year since the deadline and we cannot and will not wait forever, especially when constitutional rights are at stake,” says CDT Policy Counsel Mana Azarmi.

Azarmi says CDT will continue to pursue the case during the Biden Administration because the public has a right to know about the government’s surveillance activities during the past several years.

David Gossett, who is representing CDT from the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, says, “Government monitoring of social media opens the door to discriminatory pretextual denials of benefits and may have the effect of chilling Americans’ speech. We are holding the government to its FOIA obligations in order to better understand these constitutionally dubious practices.”

CDT is a 25-year-old 501(c)3 nonpartisan nonprofit organization working to promote democratic values by shaping technology policy and architecture.