The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has offered no transparency about its multi-million dollar program of spying on immigrants’ and other foreign visitors’ social media posts, which it uses as evidence in deportations and visa denials.

We want to change that, so we sued DHS today under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for records about the Visa Lifecycle Vetting Initiative (VLVI). We want to know what VLVI does, how it works, and what information DHS is gathering. 

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, seeks records on the current status of the program, including whether the government is monitoring people’s social media profiles and for what purpose, how this impacts visa approvals and denials, and details about a $4.8 million transaction last spring. 

EFF opposes the U.S. government’s monitoring of anyone’s social media accounts and internet activity, and in this case, the government is targeting potential immigrants who risk being unfairly labeled a threat and denied access into the U.S. EFF previously urged DHS to abandon any such vetting program because social media surveillance invades privacy and violates the First Amendment by chilling speech and allowing the government to target and punish people for expressing views it doesn’t like. Any vetting based on speech on social media would be ineffective and discriminatory.

In a FOIA request submitted last fall, EFF asked DHS for all VLVI contracts, notes on how the program works, performance work statements, recent datasets used for input, training materials, operating procedures, privacy impact statements, audits, and reports to legislative bodies. DHS released no records in response to the request, which is unacceptable and illegal. 

Though DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been using the VLVI to spy on people who wish to come to the U.S. for years, the public knows little of the program. Our lawsuit aims to bring the program’s details into the light.