WASHINGTON—The Oversight Project announced today that it is filing a lawsuit against the Biden administration in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, demanding the release of all documents related to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) contract with Babel Street, a data mining and surveillance company based in Reston, Virginia.
DHS currently maintains a contract with Babel Street for its “Babel X” product, which scrapes (retrieves and copies) data both from online sources and from “apps” running on the smartphones and other devices of billions of individuals worldwide. Government agencies can aggregate and search that data by any number of keywords and in many languages.
According to Babel Street’s website, the main function of Babel X is to, “Discover and decipher geographically diverse, multilingual data into actionable insights in real time.” The company’s founder, Jeff Chapman, told the Washington Post in 2017, “There are billions of smartphones on the planet. All you have to do is listen to them.” Per the Washington Post report, the public relationship between Babel Street and the federal government runs deep:
“The Department of Homeland Security, county governments, law enforcement agencies and the FBI use it. … The Pentagon was Babel Street’s first customer. Agencies focused on counterterrorism would use the company’s technology to monitor terrorists’ online chatter to predict attacks. Police departments and the FBI soon started signing up for the service, public contract documents reviewed by The Washington Post show.”
Unfortunately, there is little public information about the scope of Babel Street’s work with DHS in recent years, which Heritage’s Oversight Project is working to correct.
The lawsuit is particularly timely given the department’s recent efforts to launch a so-called “disinformation governance board,” which was rightly decried by observers across the political spectrum as a potential threat to free speech and a likely avenue of government censorship of content it found objectionable. The federal government’s increasing cooperation with Big Tech raises major concerns about the federal bureaucracy working with private companies to scoop up and exploit troves of data on tens of millions of Americans.
Mike Howell, director of the Oversight Project, released the following statement upon filing the suit:
“The Department of Homeland Security has completely abused its authority to come up with outrageous intelligence assessments since Biden took office. Most recently, while pro-abortion extremists firebombed pregnancy centers and engaged in unlawful intimidation efforts outside Supreme Court justices’ homes, DHS was warning law enforcement about potential violence from pro-life Americans. How do they come up with this nonsense?
“One way is through targeted surveillance of social media and paying private companies to do work that is constitutionally questionable. That’s why we are demanding that DHS turn over information related to its contract with Babel Street. The Oversight Project’s requests for more information on this are reasonable, lawful, and straightforward. DHS should have to explain what it is paying Babel Street—with American taxpayer dollars—to do with its massive data collection operation, and more importantly, what is it planning to do with that personal, private data. DHS has so far refused to provide answers to these imminently reasonable questions, a refusal which raises far more questions and concerns than it resolves. The American people have a right to this information.”
Kara Frederick, director of Heritage’s Tech Policy Center, also released a statement:
“When Big Government and Big Tech work hand-in-hand, we the people are the ones who pay the price. It should be extremely concerning that the same government agency that has broad surveillance and monitoring authority could be working with a private company to monitor Americans—not terrorists or other nefarious actors—and collect their personal data for purposes unknown, with no accountability or oversight. This is particularly troubling given DHS’ recent attempts to use official channels like the ‘Disinformation Governance Board’ to censor Americans and shut down speech it rules unacceptable. How much more power to intimidate, silence, or target everyday Americans will they gain if they have even broader access to our personal data? It’s vital that DHS provide answers to the very basic questions the Oversight Project is asking.”
The Heritage Foundation announced in January the launch of the Oversight Project, led by Howell, an attorney with experience on both congressional oversight committees and in the executive branch. The new initiative is aimed at increasing aggressive oversight of the Biden administration and the political and corporate enablers of the leftist regime.
Read the Epoch Times' scoop on the lawsuit here: EXCLUSIVE: Think Tank Sues DHS for Docs on Govt. Tracking Private Citizens’ Social Media Posts