DHS Fusion Centers with History of Civil Liberties Infringement Tracked Family Separation Protests

Posted on May 5, 2019

According to an article published by The Intercept last week, the Department of Homeland Security relayed intelligence to department fusion centers for the purposes of tracking protests against Trump administration immigration policies. In June 2018, LookingGlass Cyber Solutions, a private open-source intelligence firm, sent the DHS information on 600 events held to protest the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy (more commonly known as the “family separation” policy), which the DHS then disseminated to fusion centers it maintains.

In a comment to The Intercept, the DHS claims they did not request the information on family separation protests, but that the department shared the data it received from LookingGlass Cyber Solutions with the FBI and local law enforcement via DHS fusion centers as required by department policy to respond to supposed threats to federal property and personnel. The “intelligence” on anti-family separation activism was gleaned from Facebook event pages for the protests, and was compiled into a list of dates, locations, and Facebook event IDs for use by the DHS.

It is not clear from the reporting how this information was used by the DHS, or whether it ultimately resulted in legal or prosecutorial action against activists involved in the demonstrations.

Critically, the article in The Intercept notes that in 2012, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued a report concluding that the same DHS fusion centers to which the intelligence on family separation protests was later delivered had a history of infringing on civil liberties. These claims were echoed by a senior staff attorney at the ACLU.

This revelation constitutes only the most recent manifestation the Trump administration’s hostility to peaceful, constitutionally sanctioned dissent. In August 2017, the Justice Department issued a warrant that was subsequently severely limited which demanded the disclosure of IP addresses (which are personally identifying) for all visitors to an anti-Trump protest site. The tracking of Trump immigration policy protesters also continues an alarming trend of private surveillance firms monitoring protected First Amendment speech, the most prominent instance of which was the surveillance by TigerSwan targeting anti-Dakota Access Pipeline activists (which took place during the Obama administration). (TigerSwan’s targets included Chicago activists.) Taken together, this captures an unsettling shift toward coordinated public- and private-sector efforts to chill critical free speech.

Fortunately, the civil liberties implications of these trends are beginning to enter the public discourse. Most notably, Massachusetts Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has brought attention to the issue by publicly calling for an investigation into DHS monitoring of peaceful protesters.

Though actions like Senator Warren’s go a long way toward shining light on issues of First Amendment infringements, it is incumbent on civil liberties defenders to continue to raise awareness and push back against any attack on the rights of citizens, rather than leave the issue to the electoral process to rectify.

You can read the full piece from The Intercept here.