Beginning on Wednesday, federal authorities will be able to collect and use information published on social media to decide on immigration cases, in a change announced September 18 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The new rules apply to foreign citizens who are processed by a federal immigration agent upon entering the United States.
Although DHS insists the new policy signals a "modernization" of regulations in place since 1974, the change has worried pro-immigrant and civil rights organizations.
"It will impact those who enter the United States through any port of entry," warns José Guerrero, an immigration lawyer in Miami, Florida. “For example, let’s say a person enters under the Waiver program, without a visa, and the agent asks why he/she is coming in. If the agent checks your social media and you posted that you planned to come live in California, you will be denied entry because the Waiver only allows stays up to a maximum of 90 days.”
Other lawyers consulted by Univision News said the new measures would make it easier for the government to access more data, including from citizens and permanent legal residents. That information could help them when making important decisions, such as whether or not to grant legal permanent residence to a family member. In many cases those decisions are final.
DHS published the new requirement in the Federal Register last month as a modernzation of the 'Alien File, Index, and National File Tracking System of Records.' Here is a list of common questions and answers related to the new social media rules:
1. What do the new rules say?
DHS is modifying its current records system to collect “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information and search results,” which would be included in an applicant’s immigration file. It said the data would come from “publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers.” This includes all foreigners who entered the country lawfully, as well permanent legal residents, and naturalized US citizens.
2. What type of information will DHS collect?
The announcement says DHS (and its agencies) will collect information from social media profiles and search the internet. The government says it plans to to collect and store data "in accordance with information sharing agreements."
3. What does DHS want and what data is it looking for?
The announcement says it will include "social media identities and aliases, associated identifiable information and search results."
4. Where will the information be stored?
The government says it will be stored on a secure database.
5. Who will have access to the data?
Only DHS officials, "who need to know the information to carry out their functions of national security, police, immigration, intelligence or other national security functions.”
6. What do civil rights activists say?
Faiz Shakir, American Civil Liberties Union national political director, had the following reaction to the Department of Homeland Security’s notice on immigrants’ social media information:
“This Privacy Act notice makes clear that the government intends to retain the social media information of people who have immigrated to this country, singling out a huge group of people to maintain files on what they say. This would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the free speech that’s expressed every day on social media. This collect-it-all approach is ineffective to protect national security and is one more example of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda."