House Asks DHS For Report On Social Media Use

House lawmakers passed an appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that includes report language calling on DHS to detail agency efforts to use of social media in disaster management.

The House on June 7 passed 234-182 the fiscal year 2013 DHS appropriations bill, H.R. 5855. The measure funds the agency and other activities at $39.1 billion for FY13, a decrease of $484 million from the FY12 budget and a decrease of $393 million below President Obama’s budget request for the agency. The Senate has yet to pass a homeland security funding bill.

Non-binding report language accompanying H.R. 5855 includes instructions for DHS to report within 90 days to House and Senate appropriators about agency “efforts to use social media in disaster response activities.” The report acknowledges that real-time information gathering is “critical” following a natural disaster, including collecting data from public social media networks.

“The Committee understands [the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)] is examining ways in which to expand the application of this type of real-time data collection through social media as well as other uses of social media during disasters,” the report says. “As social media continues to become an even more powerful tool, the Committee directs DHS and FEMA to harness and apply these capabilities in support of its emergency management mission.”

The report language follows a February House hearing by the Homeland Security, where Republicans and Democrats questioned DHS officials about agency plans to monitor social media.

Meanwhile, the H.R. 5855 report language also says funding for the National BioSurveillance Integration System, which detects and tracks disease trends in the United States, should be used to continue a slate of pilot program from FY12, including one involving social media.

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