Privacy Groups Hit Back At DHS For Decision To Scour Immigrants’ Social Media Accounts

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to gather a database of social media history of immigrants beginning October 18. This database will include but not be limited to posts from immigrants’ Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, as well as their search results and networks of friends, and will continue to collect social media activity long after they have crossed the border.

The DHS quietly published an amendment to their records regulations on September 18, and it was first noticed and reported by Buzzfeed News a week later on September 25. The new social media history database will encompass not only immigrants, but green card holders and naturalized citizens, and American citizens who communicate with immigrants as well. 

Faiz Shakir, national policy director of the ACLU, is concerned about government violation of privacy:

“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.”

Lawyers and privacy groups are also disturbed and alarmed by the new measure “We see this as part of a larger process of high-tech surveillance of immigrants and more and more people being subjected to social media screening,” said Adam Schwartz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for privacy and free expression. “There’s a growing trend at the Department of Homeland Security 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.”

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