US government used social media to monitor journalists and advocates working with migrants


The US government created a database of more than 50 journalists and immigrant rights advocates, many of whom were American citizens, associated with the journey of migrants travelling from Central America to the Mexico-US border in late 2018. Officials from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the US Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had access to this database. This list allowed the government to track journalists and advocates, including at least one lawyer, who had either worked with the migrants or followed their journey. The database included photos and information from journalists’ and advocates’ passports and social media accounts. Some people in the database were flagged for secondary screening and additional questioning.

The existence and use of this database raises concerns that border officials and law enforcement are surveilling, targeting, and retaliating against advocates and journalists simply because of their profession and the subject of their work, in violation of their First Amendment rights. It is also alarming that journalists, advocates, and lawyers could be used to surveil the migrant and immigrant communities they work with.

Writers: Tome Jones, Mari Payton, and Bill Feather

Publication: NBC San Diego