DHS Looks to Collect Social Media Info for All Immigrants

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on September 27, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A new rule will allow the Department of Homeland Security to gather social media information for immigrants, including "social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results." While this might seem like a normal update to the vetting process for incoming visitors or visa applications, the rule would reportedly also apply to people who have already obtained a green card or completed the naturalization process.

Additionally, the new rule could make U.S. citizens' conversations with immigrants on social media subject to government surveillance. Here's a look.

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Buzzfeed first reported on the new rule, which was published in the Federal Register last week, and will go into effect October 18. DHS at that point will expand the categories of information it collects under its Alien File, Index, and National File Tracking System of Records to include "social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results." And there are concerns as to the privacy implications of the new rule as well as its efficacy.

"We see this as part of a larger process of high-tech surveillance of immigrants and more and more people being subjected to social media screening," Adam Schwartz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation told BuzzFeed News. "There's a growing trend at the Department of Homeland Security to be snooping on the social media of immigrants and foreigners and we think it's an invasion of privacy and deters freedom of speech."

Buzzfeed also reports that an Office of Inspector General report published in February found DHS pilot programs for using social media to screen applicants for immigration benefits "lack criteria for measuring performance to ensure they meet their objectives."

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In May, the Trump administration authorized a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants that requests social media handles going back five years. So while we may know what information immigration officials want and how they will access it, how that information will be used in making immigration decisions remains to be seen.

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