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Public Comment Now Open: Should DHS Monitor Immigrants’ Social Media?

by Countable | 9.29.17

What’s the story?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has introduced a new regulation that would allow the agency to collect info from immigrants’ Tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram uploads, and search results.

DHS’ move towards "conducting more immigration actions in an electronic environment" wouldn’t be limited to new immigrants: the proposed rule would also allow DHS to monitor the social media accounts of green card holders and naturalized citizens.

The agency is accepting comments on the proposal through October 18, 2017 here.

(Make sure you indicate you’re commenting on docket number DHS-2017-0038)

Why does it matter?

DHS published the proposed rule change in the Federal Register, writing the agency wanted to "redefine which records constitute the official record of an individual's immigration history." Part of this redefinition would be including immigrants’ “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results.”

What the agency means by "search results" – or how it would access them – is not clear.

The new regulation would also affect U.S. citizens who communicate with immigrants, according to Adam Schwartz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Schwartz told BuzzFeed News that his privacy advocacy group sees the DHS move "as part of a larger process of high-tech surveillance of immigrants and more and more people being subjected to social media screening." According to Schwartz, there’s a growing trend for DHS “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."

Regarding this trend, Countable recently reported that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers have, for years, been subjecting travelers at U.S. borders to warrantless searches of their cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices.

Which may be why DHS has claimed "this amendment does not represent a new policy." Joanne Talbot, a spokeswoman for the agency, wrote in an email on Wednesday 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."

Faiz Shakir, national policy director of the ACLU, isn’t convinced:

"This would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the free speech that's expressed every day on social media."

What do you think?

Should DHS monitor the social media of immigrants, green-card holders, and naturalized citizens? Is it necessary to "protect the homeland" or will it have a “chilling effect on the free speech that's expressed every day on social media"? Hit Take Action and tell your reps, then comment below—and make sure to share your comments with DHS before October 18.

—Josh Herman

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