A new rule in the federal register indicates that the Department of Homeland Security intends to keep a number of records on all immigrants, besides that which they already keep, most notably all social media handles. Even those for Naturalized citizens and legal residents.
However, the DHS is also adding new categories to official records including “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results.” And the collection of social media information isn’t limited to new immigrants but will apply to all immigrants including permanent residents and naturalized citizens.
This move is certainly not out of the blue — incorporating social media information into immigrant records in one way or another has been a topic of conversation for a while. In 2015, the DHS began working on a plan to add social media searches into visa application protocol and in 2016 it proposed and implemented a new section in the travel form for foreign visitors coming to the US under the visa waiver program that asks for social media handles. In February, the DHS announced that it was planning to start asking visitors from Trump’s travel ban list of countries for not only their social account names, but their passwords as well. And in March reports came out that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered social media checks on all visa applicants who had visited ISIS-controlled regions. Additionally, after proposing the plan in May, the Trump administration introduced an expanded visa applicant questionnaire in June that asks for all social media handles used in the last five years.
This new rule is being added to the Privacy Act of 1974 reports the website Common Dreams.
The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement on the new rule on Tuesday.
“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,” said Faiz Shakir, national political director of the ACLU. “This would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the free speech that’s expressed every day on social media. This collect-it-all approach is ineffective to protect national security and is one more example of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.”
Permanent residents and naturalized citizens would also be subject to the new rule, suggesting that DHS is planning to monitor the social media activity of any U.S. resident who was born outside of the U.S. Anyone who communicates with immigrants on social media would also be affected.
The rule is set to go into effect on October 18, the same day that the Trump administration’s new travel ban will begin affecting citizens of eight countries that the president claims have “sufficient risk factors” to make any travel from the countries dangerous to Americans.
Citizens won’t be able to respond to this publicly until October 18. But here’s another action to contact your Congressional representative about.