ACLU sues federal agencies in order to obtain social media surveillance records

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday filed a lawsuit against seven federal agencies, intending to obtain information on how the government surveils social media. The suit seeks to compel the agencies to turn over documents related to communications with social media platforms and the guidelines they use.

The suit accuses the agencies of failing to turn over documents in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed against the agencies in May. The only response to the requests came from the FBI, which indicated that they could “neither confirm nor deny the existence of records” related to social media surveillance, despite having previously acknowledged that they engage in such surveillance.

The original requests in May were motivated by social media policies undertaken in the Trump administration. According to the lawsuit, “Defendants are investing in technology and systems that enable the programmatic and sustained tracking of U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike.” The suit also cites the Administration’s policy of “extreme vetting,” which entails a ramping up of monitoring and retention of social media information of immigrants and visa applicants specifically.

The lawsuit also states that “Defendants’ surveillance of social media users and speech raises serious free speech and privacy concerns.” Specifically, the suit expresses concern that these practices can “lead to the disproportionate targeting of racial and religious minority communities, and those who dissent against government policies.”