DHS Rule Codifies Tracking Social Media of Every Immigrant
A new rule published last week would include "social media handles and aliases, associated identifiable information and search results" in the records the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintains on immigrants to the United States.
The rule, which is currently in the middle of a public comment period, is slated to go into effect on October 18th, barring any additional action.
The proposal has drawn significant attention, in part because it would apply to all immigrants to the United States, including those who have already become naturalized citizens. Some reports have noted that, as with most surveillance of online conversations, the rule would also be likely to impact other American citizens who never went through the immigration process, if those individuals ever had conversations with someone immigrating to the country.
In a report filed earlier this year, DHS’ own Office of Inspector General expressed some skepticism about the pilot program, finding that the social media screening efforts being tested by U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – both of which are components of DHS -- “lack criteria for measuring performance to ensure they meet their objectives. Although the pilots include some objectives, such as determining the effectiveness of an automated search tool and assessing data collection and dissemination procedures, it is not clear DHS is measuring and evaluating the pilots’ results to determine how well they are performing against set criteria.”
The rule would “expand the categories of records” maintained on individuals who are or have immigrated to the United States “to include the following: country of nationality; country of residence; the USCIS Online Account Number; social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results” Moreover, the rule expands the list of usable sources in obtaining said information “to include publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers, and information obtained and disclosed pursuant to information sharing agreements.”
The rule – which WIRED notes got its start under the Obama administration -- follows on the heels of a May announcement by the Trump administration of a new questionnaire for visa applicants, which, according to The Hill, “requests social media handles for the past five years, as well as biographical information going back 15 years.”
DHS has claimed that the rule does not expand its already-existing powers, saying in a statement that, "DHS, in its law-enforcement and immigration-process capacity, has and continues to monitor publicly available social media to protect the homeland. In an effort to be transparent, to comply with existing regulations, and due to updates in the electronic immigration system, DHS decided to update its corresponding Privacy Act system of records."
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