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US government to shutter division that reportedly scoured social media for Census disinformation

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The US Department of Commerce will shut down its ITMS division.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The US Department of Commerce announced Friday that it will close its Investigations and Threat Management Service division. It will do so within 90 days and will also permanently end all criminal investigations initiated by the division.

The actions are the culmination of an internal review by the department’s Office of General Counsel that investigated the ITMS following allegations of misconduct and abuse of authority. In May, the Washington Post reported that the ITMS had opened investigations on private citizens who were critical on social media of the Census, which is run by the Department of Commerce. It had also surveilled the correspondence of Asian American employees in the department in order to detect foreign influence.

“Our most important priority is creating an environment at the Department of Commerce where employees feel safe and respected,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, in a statement. “We are committed to maintaining our security, but also equally committed to protecting the privacy and civil liberties of our employees and the public. This report and the actions we are taking underscore our commitment that the Department operate with respect for the rule of law, the rights of employees and the American people.”

“The Commerce Department leadership team took the ITMS allegations very seriously and upon learning about the concerns, immediately suspended all criminal enforcement activity,” said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves. “Commerce leadership has reviewed and accepted the recommendations in the report and will begin implementation immediately.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Commerce declined to offer any further comment. The full report can be read here (PDF).

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