Social media monitoring poses new threats to privacy, freedom of expression, and the public’s right to know

OpenTheGovernment has joined a coalition of government accountability, privacy, and civil liberties organizations expressing concern over the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) proposal to collect and store social media information for individuals’ visa and immigration records. The proposal poses new threats to privacy, freedom of speech and association, and lacks clarity needed to ensure the public that proper accountability mechanisms are in place for the implementation of the program.       

On September 19, 2017, the DHS issued a System of Records Notice, alerting the public of its plan to store social media information in ‘Alien Files’ (A-Files), which includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, immigrant visa holders, asylum seekers, and student visa holders. The sweeping data collection practice broadens earlier efforts under the previous administration, and is part of a growing trend of the government using social media monitoring as a prominent and routine component of its immigration screening procedures. Increasing DHS’s authority to collaterally access individuals’ social media content threatens to chill free speech activities of both naturalized and U.S.-born citizens, pressuring individuals who fear their activities might be monitored by the government to self-censor or delete their social media accounts, with negative consequences for their social, political, and business activities.

The substantive concerns are compounded by the secrecy behind the proposal, which fails to address questions related to how the data will be used, stored, and shared with other agencies. It also does not explain why the expanded social media information collection program is needed at all. The lack of clarity in the government’s plan creates confusion and fear for those impacted, including individuals and organizations the government may associate with aiding immigrant communities, such as churches, activists or lawyers working in support of immigrant rights.

The notice has garnered a widespread public response, and DHS has been flooded with comments calling for the proposal to be withdrawn.

Read the coalition comment, here

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