(CN) - Homeland Security spies on Facebook and Twitter users, recording the activity of people who search for terms like "human to animal," "collapse" and "infection," according to an online privacy advocacy group that has sued to peruse the agency's data.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says Homeland Security announced plans to monitor social media sites in February.
"The initiatives were designed to gather information from 'online forums, blogs, public websites, and message boards,' to store and analyze the information gathered, and then to 'disseminate relevant and appropriate de-identified information to federal, state, local, and foreign governments and private sector partners,'" according to the federal complaint filed in Washington, D.C.
"Previously, DHS had developed surveillance initiatives of public chats and other online forums concerning specific events, such as the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the April 2010 BP oil spill," EPIC also claims.
As part of the initiative, the agency would "establish [fictitious] usernames and passwords" to spy on users and record their activities based on a number of search terms, including "human to animal," "collapse," "outbreak," and "illegal immigrants," the complaint says.
Homeland Security regularly plans to report their findings to "federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, foreign, or international government partners," the privacy group says.
EPIC allegedly requested documents from Homeland Security in April related to third-party contractors that work on social-media monitoring. The companies included H.B. Gar Federal, Palantir Technologies, and Berico Technologies, according to the complaint.
Homeland Security denied the request, and EPIC appealed the decision.
A request under the Freedom of Information Act to access the documents has gone unanswered after the department forwarded it to several components for processing and future response, according to the federal complaint.
EPIC is represented by Ginger McCall, in-house counsel for the group.