On September 18, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), announced its intention to expand its database containing immigrant information ("Alien Files" or "A Files") to include social media information of all immigrants in the country—even green card holders and naturalized U.S. citizens—a dramatic ramping up of surveillance of virtually anyone in the United States who is not a U.S. citizen by birth.
What information is included in the notice?
The notice tells us the following:
- WHAT: DHS collects “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results.”
- WHERE: DHS stores this social media information in each immigrant’s “Alien File,” or “A-File” for short. This is a government record keeping system that tracks individuals as they move through the U.S immigration process, which may culminate in lawful permanent residency (a green card) or naturalized citizenship.
- HOW LONG: It appears that DHS indefinitely stores social media information (and other data) in the A-File. The DHS notice states that the A-File is transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) 100 years after the individual’s date of birth.
- USE: DHS officials across this vast department can use the social media information (and other data) in the A-File for a myriad of purposes—41 are listed in the notice—including for intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism.
- SHARING: DHS can share social media information (and other data) in the A-File with a myriad of entities and individuals outside DHS, including other U.S. government agencies, state and local authorities, foreign governments, and private parties.
In short, the notice reveals many disturbing facts on what DHS does with immigrants’ social media information after DHS collection. It also presents many questions about the collection and use of immigrants’ social media information. For example, can social media information contained in someone’s A-File, collected while they were still an immigrant, be used or shared after they have become a naturalized citizen?
I'm an immigrant in the United States. Am I now required to disclose all my social media information to DHS?
Not yet. The rule is currently undergoing a notice and comment period which ends on October 18, 2017. In fact, several critics of the initiative have called it a "sweeping encroachment" upon privacy, a threat to First Amendment Rights, and a system ripe for abuse, which would disproportionately impact minority groups.
I'm affected by this development. What should I do?
If you are an immigrant, a green card holder, a naturalized U.S. citizen, or otherwise affected by this change and would like to take action, you may submit comments, identified by docket number DHS-2017-0038 by one of the following methods:
- Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: Follow this link and hover on the chat bubble on the left margin. Click on the text, Submit a public comment on this document and this brings you to the comment page where you can include your comment.
- Fax: 202-343-4010.
- Mail: Jonathan R. Cantor, Acting Chief Privacy Officer, Privacy Office, Department of Homeland Security, Washington, DC 20528-0655.
Remember, you only have until October 18, 2017 to submit comments.
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