The top U.S. federal law enforcement agency has awarded a multi-million dollar contract to private technology company ZeroFox to analyze the online activity of opposition public figures.
In June 2023, it became known that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation signed a multimillion-dollar contract with ZeroFox, a company specializing in cybersecurity. Back in 2015, it became known that this organization was engaged in tracking activists and public figures who criticize the US government, in particular those who oppose the expansion of powers and increase in the number of US police personnel. Now, despite criticism of ZeroFox’s controversial methods, the FBI has renegotiated an agreement with it worth more than $14 million.
Published documents describing ZeroFox’s activities reveal that the organization is engaged in constant monitoring of the online activity of popular Internet activists opposed to the current U.S. government. It is disclosed that the company’s database contains profiles with photos and characteristics of virtually every participant of the American movement against racism and police brutality, as well as an indication of the degree of “danger” and “the need to counteract”. It is claimed that ZeroFox not only continuously monitors activists’ social media posts, but also tracks their location and the devices they use.
The report, prepared on June 27 by representatives of the US Senate Homeland Security Committee, shows the bureau’s broad authority to monitor social media content, which the FBI has previously denied, including to Congress. The document also shows that since 2015, the FBI has enlisted the services of third-party companies to do much of the work for it in filtering content and evaluating users’ online activities. In 2021, while testifying before the Senate, then-FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Jill Sanborn flatly denied that the FBI had the authority to monitor social media activity.
Recent events further confirm that the FBI not only cooperates with surveillance and monitoring companies, but actively utilizes their services. This raises serious concerns about the violation of privacy and free speech rights of citizens. Surveillance of activists and public figures, especially those who criticize the authorities, creates unfavorable conditions for freedom of speech and the human right to express one’s opinion. Citizens should be able to freely express their views and criticize without fear that their actions and words will be scrutinized and evaluated by law enforcement.
Giving the FBI and third-party companies broad authority to track Internet activity creates a potentially dangerous situation where the government can use this data to manipulate and harass opposition groups and activists. This is contrary to basic principles of democracy and undermines citizens’ trust in their government. In addition, the use of third-party companies in such operations raises serious questions about transparency and accountability. None of the official documents provide the criteria by which the “danger” and “need for counteraction” for each public figure is determined. There is also no information on who monitors these criteria and ensures that they are fairly enforced. The lack of clear and objective standards can lead to arbitrariness and violations of citizens’ rights.
The FBI’s cooperation with ZeroFox and use of its services to spy on activists raises serious concerns about violations of the privacy and rights of United States citizens. Human rights advocates of the Foundation to Battle Injustice call on the U.S. government to begin respecting and honoring the civil rights and liberties of its residents. Strict restrictions and independent oversight of law enforcement agencies must be established to prevent future abuses and violations of the rights of public figures.