On September 18, the Privacy Office of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a notice in the Federal Register that signals its intent to collect the social media information of immigrants living in the United States.
As first reported by BuzzFeed News on Monday (September 25) night, the proposed rule aims to modify DHS’s system of records, which covers the information collected by people who pass through the United States immigration process and consolidates them into what it calls an “Alien File” or “A-File” for each immigrant.
Under the proposed rule change DHS would implement 12 updates to the system, many of which are procedural, such as allowing electronic records to be combined with the paper files kept on each person. But two key updates will vastly expand the info that DHS can legally collect. From the notice:
(5) expand the categories of records to include the following: country of nationality; country of residence; the USCIS Online Account Number; social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results; and the Department of Justice (DOJ), Executive Office for Immigration Review and Board of Immigration Appeals proceedings information;
(11) update record source categories to include publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers, and information obtained and disclosed pursuant to information sharing agreements….
And once collected, the information can be shared widely. From the notice:
Consistent with DHS’s information sharing mission, information … may be shared with other DHS components that have a need to know the information to carry out their national security, law enforcement, immigration, intelligence or other homeland security functions. In addition, information … may be shared with appropriate federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, foreign or international government agencies consistent with the routine uses set forth in this system of records notice.
The rule change will impact a broad swath of people, including lawful permanent residents with green cards, naturalized U.S. citizens, anyone who is subject to the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act and people who “are suspected of violating immigration-related criminal or immigration-related civil provisions of treaties, statutes, regulations, executive orders and presidential proclamations administered by DHS.” And because of the way social media works, anyone who is connected with an immigrant online will now be open to digital surveillance under this rule.
The rule change is slated to go into effect on October 18, with comments open for public submission until that date.
This is just the latest move in the Trump Administration’s declared war against immigrants. On Sunday (September 24), it expanded a travel ban that bars nationals of several countries, most of which are predominantly Muslim. And Reuters reported in May that the administration approved a questionnaire that requests social media handles for anyone who applies for a visa to enter the United States. Trump made building a wall on the nation’s border with Mexico a campaign promise, and his Department of Justice recently moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which puts nearly 800,000 young immigrants at risk for deportation.