Demonstrations against the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy may have been tracked. According to a report by The Intercept on Monday, the Department of Homeland Security monitored anti-family separation protests that took place in 2018.
The Intercept reported that it received information from the American Immigration Council about a data firm in Virginia called LookingGlass Cyber Solutions. The report claimed that the firm provided the DHS information on more than 600 anti-family separation demonstrations within the United States. According to the report, these protests took place in June last year.
A DHS official tells Bustle in an emailed statement that the department's Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) works with federal partners, as well as state and local law enforcement, to "assess threats and analyze trends in activity." According to the statement, "a private sector entity" did share certain information with the department, but the information was unsolicited. The statement says:
In this particular instance, a private sector entity shared unsolicited information it collected through publically available channels with DHS I&A on protests that were scheduled to take place near Federal facilities. Throughout the summer of 2018, the Department was at a heightened state of security due to ongoing protests outside of Federal facilities and physical threats to DHS employees which did result in a least one arrest.
When DHS I&A receives this type of information, we are required to share it consistent with DHS policy to ensure stakeholders have appropriate situational awareness regarding personnel, facilities, suspicious activities, emerging threats, incidents, operations, and operational capabilities affecting the Department or the Homeland Security Enterprise.
According to The Intercept, the information that the DHS received mainly focused on the physical locations of the protests. The report shared examples like a high school in Florida, a church in Illinois, the American Embassy in Mexico, and even a Denny's in California. The outlet noted that LookingGlass Cyber Solutions collected Facebook physical location data on more than 600 scheduled "Family Separation Day Protests" around the country.
The DHS then gave this collective information from the data firm to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to The Intercept. LookingGlass' Chief Marketing Officer Joy Nemitz told the publication, "As a matter of company policy and confidentiality, we do not comment on matters pertaining to clients or work performed and refer all queries to the company in question."
This isn't the first time that the U.S. government has reportedly monitored protest activity like this. In March, NBC San Diego reported that the DHS tracked reporters, attorneys, and activists covering the treatment of asylum applicants in San Diego. The Customs and Border Protection said it was "protocol following these incidents to collect evidence that might be needed for future legal actions" in a statement to NBC San Diego.
Human rights activists are, however, worried about such reports. Jess Morales Rocketto, who co-chairs the Families Belong Together organization, told The Intercept, "It’s especially concerning given that these protests were basically thousands of moms and their kids, thousands of families, and that the Trump administration’s response to that was to put them on a watch list."