Social Media Handles to be Among New Information Being Collected from Immigrants

Last Updated on March 2, 2023

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is adding social media handles to new information being collected from immigrants, according to a new rule the DHS published under the Federal Register’s Privacy Act of 1974.

This update will apply to an individual’s Alien File (A-File), the document maintained for official records of anyone going through the immigration process. “Aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results” were also among the list of additions to these records.

The new rule goes beyond the new questionnaire approved by the Trump administration in May which asks would-be visitors of the U.S. to provide all social media handles used in the past five years. Rather, it expands the collection of social media handles from hopeful immigrants to include existing green card holders and naturalized citizens, as well.

In response to questions from Gizmodo, the DHS said “The notice does not authorize [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service] to search the social media accounts of naturalized citizens; rather, it simply restates USCIS’ authority to search publicly available social media information of individuals applying for naturalization and informs the public that this publicly available information will be stored in the applicant’s alien file.”

The Privacy Act of 1974 is a federal law that “establishes a Code of Fair Information Practice that governs the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of personally identifiable information about individuals.”

Disclosure of information collected is prohibited without the consent of the individual it pertains to, unless under one of its twelve statutory exceptions.

As pointed out by BuzzFeed, there is evidence to suggest that previously piloted programs to screen applicants using social media have lacked criteria to determine effectiveness.

This update will take effect on Wednesday, October 18, the same day President Trump’s new executive order banning almost all travel from seven countries is expected to go live.

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