DHS Report: Agency Complying With Privacy Promises in Social Media Monitoring

An agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security likely was monitoring social media communications when determining the impact of Hurricane Sandy, but a Nov. 8 DHS report promised that it was not collecting personally identifiable information (PII) from everyone who tweeted about #Sandy.

The report said that DHS's Office of Operations Coordination and Planning, National Operations Center (NOC), compiles information for the federal government, and state and local government as appropriate, regarding "a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster." Those reports now include information gleaned from monitoring social media, in addition to traditional media, the agency said.

"By examining open source traditional and social media information, comparing it with many other sources of information, and including it where appropriate into reports, the NOC can provide a more comprehensive picture of breaking or evolving events," the report said.

The agency said it established a Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) in 2010, which was updated in 2011. The new report concluded that NOC continued to meet its obligations under the PIA during the latest bi-annual review period of March 1 to Aug. 30.

The PIA said that the agency will only include PII from seven groups "when doing so lends credibility to the report or facilitates coordination with interagency or international partners." Those groups include senior U.S. and foreign government officials, U.S. and foreign individuals in life or death circumstances, reporters using social media, and terrorists or drug cartel leaders.

DHS also said it would not actively seek out PII, post information on social media sites, accept "friend" invitations on social media, or interact with any individuals on social media websites. For example, it said NOC's Twitter account had not posted tweets, added any followers, or followed any individuals.

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