DHS starts social network about Southwestern border

Moderated social network will focus on border security, immigration laws

The Homeland Security Department has created a moderated social network designed to spur informed debate and discussion about topics related to the United States’ Southwestern border.

The network named Our Border is hosted on the site Ning.com and is open to everyone. But although posted content is visible to anyone who visits, people need to have an account with the Ning network to participate, DHS said. However, the network is administered and moderated by DHS and all content is reviewed by the department before it’s posted, according to the network’s content policy.

DHS will use the network to communicate the department’s policy, post photos and videos, and engage in dialogue, according to the policies detailed on Our Border. The department administers the network and plans to eventually use Ning’s live chat feature on Our Border, according to DHS’ privacy impact assessment.

Four discussion groups are currently available on the site: Customs and Border Protection, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Citizenship and Immigration Services.

According to DHS’ policy, although the Ning company requires users to submit personally identifiable information (PII) such as e-mail addresses and dates of birth when registering, the department won’t actively collect or gather that information or put it into DHS’ systems of records.

DHS also said that although Ning’s privacy policy indicates that Ning uses persistent cookies and other Web tracking technologies on Our Border, the department won’t have access to the PII contained in the persistent cookies. Users also won’t be allowed to add third-party applications to Our Border to help protect privacy, DHS said.

To mitigate risk associated with persistent cookies, the department is also providing clear notice about the type of information being collected, how it’s used, the purpose of collection, and the privacy safeguards that are applied to it, according to DHS’ recent privacy impact assessment.

Meanwhile, DHS will also take steps to make sure people know about the department’s involvement in the program, according to the assessment. For example, DHS will post on its Web site its own content and privacy policies, provide them on a prominent link on every page, and identify itself across the network to make clear that the department is sponsoring the effort, the assessment said.

The assessment, dated Aug. 10, also said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano approved using the technology for Our Border as required by guidance from the Office of Management and Budget that generally prohibits agencies from using such Web tracking technologies.

The Our Border effort aims to facilitate the creation of a “civic network.” The effort was in accordance with President Barack Obama’s Transparency and Open Government Memorandum that directed agencies to use new technologies to engage the public, DHS said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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