Homeland Security plans to monitor all immigrants' social media accounts

The Department of Homeland Security has been slowly encroaching upon social media, having first done things like asking visitors to voluntarily provide their social accounts to more direct things like authorizing the examination of social media accounts as part of background checks for visa applicants. Now that people have grown accustomed to that news, the DHS is again invading the social space, this time for all immigrants.

This latest move, which was recently published in the Federal Register and goes into effect on October 18, targets all immigrants, and that includes naturalized citizens and permanents residents. It's a sweeping measure that will see the government harvesting a large number of social media handles, search results data, and more on those who have immigrated to the United States.

It underscores a growing trend in Homeland Security that is targeting social media as the latest surveillance hotbed, one that puts privacy and free speech at risk (the latter because of self-censorship due to knowledge of the surveillance). As well, any US citizen who communicates with immigrants may also be subjected to the surveillance, making this latest rule a wide-sweeping one that will affect a huge number of people.

Plans to monitor social media have been heavily criticized by many, and for obvious reasons: it is easy to simply not use social media. As well, anyone can create multiple accounts and maintain a 'clean' version that is given to officials, making the entire surveillance pointless. Publicly available social media accounts are less common and less likely to be the place where radicals discuss terroristic ideologies.

Not only that, but the increased scrutiny makes it possible that officials may misconstrue the meaning of certain statuses or comments, opening the door for punitive or threatening actions against someone who may not be a risk.

Even worse, the social monitoring will in part be used to determine and track someone's ideological beliefs, including about the US; even if such data isn't used against any given individual under a current administration, having such information on file leaves it vulnerable to any future governments which may use it for oppressive reasons.

Evidence about the efficacy of social media vetting for visa or other purposes is lacking. However, it is known that indiscriminately gathering data on huge numbers of people creates a numbers problem — specifically, there's too much data and no efficient way to process it all, making it easier for important details to be lost in the noise. The EFF is opposing this new surveillance measure.

SOURCE: Buzzfeed