DHS confirms request to tap protester phones

A top official at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told lawmakers on Friday that he had heard about his office receiving a request to extract information from protesters’ cellphones after demonstrations in Portland, Ore.

In a public hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, Joseph Maher, the DHS official carrying out the duties of the under secretary for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), told lawmakers he was aware of a request for protesters’ cellphones to be combed for information, but he said it was never carried out. He also said he was unaware of who made the request.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who raised concerns about possible violations of civil liberties, pressed Maher about recent reports about protesters having their phones seized, while citing committee interviews with DHS officials as corroborating the claims.

“Did I&A receive a request to exploit those phones?” Himes asked.

“I have heard that,” Maher replied.

Maher quickly added that the DHS inspector general is investigating the activities in Portland and that the internal watchdog has “specifically” asked him not to interview individuals within I&A about matters that are under investigation, which he indicated has limited his conversations on this issue.

Himes said that such a request for cellphone information would be “shocking.”