Homeland Security Ramps Up Social Media Surveillance Of Immigrants

Immigrants entering the United States will soon be mandated to turn over information about their social media presence to the Department of Homeland Security before they are permitted entry to the country or receive immigration benefits, according to a notice in the Federal Register.

To determine whether the migrant “poses a law enforcement or national security risk to the United States,” foreigners will be required to provide the social media accounts and usernames they’ve used on platforms including Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit and MySpace over the past five years. The agency is not requesting passwords to the account and only examine public posts.

The State Department announced plans to begin collecting information from visa applicants’ social media accounts in March 2018 and nearly all applicants began submitting their social media handles in June. However, the U.S. Citizen and Immigrations Services and Customs and Border Protection will also be requesting the details about social media from migrants.  

The government is ramped up the existing requirements after a Harvard student, Ismail Ajawi, a 17-year old Palestinian resident of Lebanon, was denied entry to the U.S. after CBP inspection.

Ajawi was reportedly detained by CBP for eight hours as immigration officials examined his social media activities. He was then told he was “deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection” and his accounts contained “political points of view that oppose the U.S.” before his visa was revoked and he was sent back to Lebanon.

Ajjawi was then permitted entry to the U.S. on September 2, after overcoming “all grounds of inadmissibility and was admitted into the United States as a student on an F1 visa.” The agency did not provide details on how the case was resolved or why it reversed its decision.

Beginning in 2020, the government will collect the social media information from applicants seeking asylum, applicants for legal permanent residency and naturalization, immigrants seeking visa updates, visa waivers and the Electronic System for Travel Authorization document.

The move affects nearly 15 million potential immigrants to the United States, according to the documents. There are exemptions for diplomatic and official visas, the State Department said.

Citizenship and Immigration Services, which manages legal immigration benefits, updated its privacy policy, and will also utilize fake social media accounts and identities to identify threats and detect fraud in the immigration system, CNN reports.

Privacy and civil liberties advocates argue the scouring of social media postings by potential immigrants limits legal immigration to the U.S. by slowing the process down, in addition to invading privacy grounds.

The American Civil Liberties Union warns the program infringes on immigrants’ rights, in “yet another ineffective and deeply problematic Trump administration plan.”

“It will infringe on the rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens by chilling freedom of speech and association, particularly because people will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official,” the ACLU’s Hina Shamsi said in a statement.

Prior to the Trump administration, the State Department requested only “certain contact information, travel history, family member information and previous addresses.”

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