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Immigrants and Foreign Travelers Soon Required to Provide DHS with Social Media Usernames

Beginning in 2020, the Department of Homeland Security will require foreign travelers and immigration benefits applicants to submit their social media accounts and usernames. The move is part of a larger data collection strategy, implemented in the attempt to identify individuals who pose a security risk to the United States.

Nine US Citizenship and Immigration Services programs for immigration benefits will require this information. Some of these include applications for:

Applicants will need to submit information on accounts they’ve had in the last five years on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. The DHS will not collect passwords, and according to a DHS official, this social media data collection will simply “make the review of publicly available social media information more efficient.” The agency claims their goal is to establish vetting standards and enhance national security.

Rising Concerns for Rights to Privacy and Freedom of Speech

This move has triggered concern in a wide variety of human rights organizations. In January of 2019, the ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking records of the department’s social media surveillance. Privacy advocates such as the Brennan Center report that social media monitoring has little value, explaining that even individuals the DHS determined as posing national security risks had accounts that did nothing to reveal those concerns. The center’s co-director also points out that “social media is inherently very difficult to interpret” because of its dependence upon context, slang, and language or cultural differences.

Many believe this move represents a dangerous expansion of social media surveillance and an overall threat to freedom of speech. The DHS holds individuals responsible for the content of not just their own posts but also the posts of accounts they follow. Harvard student Ismail Ajjawi, for example, was initially denied entry into the US in August of 2019 because people he followed on social media expressed views that “opposed the United States.”

In addition to collecting social media data on applications, Citizenship and Immigration Services uses fake social media accounts to identify fraud and threats to national security. Customs and Border Protection will archive this data for 12 years, and any data linked to law enforcement records will remain accessible indefinitely.

View the article from CNN Politics to learn more about the Department of Homeland Security’s collection of social media information. For more information about your rights as an immigrant or foreign traveler, call (650) 931-2509 to get in touch with The Alagiri Immigration Law Firm or contact us online . Priya Alagiri has more than 15 years of experience fighting for the rights of immigrants from all around the globe.