Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanPelosi suggests Jan. 6 panel could investigate Jordan and Banks Sunday shows preview: Taliban close in on Afghanistan; Kathy Hochul to become first female governor in NY House Judiciary GOP seeks to strike Biden ‘ghost guns’ rule MORE of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, is requesting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) turn over documents as the agency considers using third party firms to review social media content.
The effort comes amid numerous reports that DHS is grappling with how to better monitor social media content that could lead to violence from extremists like those who participated in the Capitol attack on Jan. 6.
John Cohen, head of the agency’s intelligence unit, recently described the possibility of beefing up the department’s social media analysis in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal.
And CNN reported in May that DHS was weighing whether to use contractors to monitor extremist activity online.
“DHS’s use of non-governmental entities to engage in this warrantless surveillance is reportedly designed to circumvent legal restrictions that prohibit law enforcement and intelligence agencies from spying on Americans. DHS’s use of private companies—including social media platforms—to spy on online communications would have serious consequences for the civil liberties of all Americans,” Jordan wrote in a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas
“This initiative is even more dangerous when viewed in the context of DHS’s prior targeting of American citizens for holding benign political opinions,” he added.
The letter asks for a briefing with DHS staff as well as documents detailing internal discussions over the plan, including its legality.
A DHS spokesman told The Hill that the agency “does not and will not at any time task an outside firm with any effort that DHS isn’t otherwise legally capable of doing.”
“DHS is not partnering with private firms to surveil suspected domestic terrorists online. It is also blatantly false to suggest that the Department is using outside firms to circumvent its legal limits. All of our work to address the threat of domestic terrorism is done consistent with the Constitution and other applicable law, and in close coordination with our privacy and civil liberties experts,” the spokesman said by email.
But in an interview with the Journal earlier this month, Cohen said relying on outside companies would be a part of the effort.
“What we’re talking about now is dramatically expanding our focus,” Cohen told the newspaper, stressing the department would get high-level intelligence.
“You never get intelligence that tells you the specific location that’s at risk,” he said, “but you may get information that tells you that an international terrorist group or domestic extremist group seeks to target a certain faith community or certain ethnic community.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has also raised concerns over the potential program.
“The lack of transparency around this is a problem of itself,” Hugh Handeyside, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s national security project, told The Hill.
“It’s not clear private entities can do this more effectively or consistently with either the law or the protection of free expression,” he said.