DHS To Officially Require Immigrants' Files To Contain Social Media Info

from the every-life-an-open-book dept

It looks like being the wrong kind of American will result in the mandatory collection of social media account handles and aliases. New rules on social media snooping have been floated several times with varying degrees of sincerity, but this time the DHS actually means it.

The Department of Homeland Security published the new rule in the Federal Register last week, saying it wants to include "social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results" as part of people's immigration file. The new requirement takes effect Oct. 18.

This will affect all immigrants, whether or not their legal status says they should be treated like US citizens. The rule covers permanent residents and naturalized citizens, not just visa applicants and visitors. And it will proceed despite two important missing elements: clear legal authority and any proven national security value.

The DHS admitted in a letter to Ron Wyden it had no authority to search Americans' social media accounts. All it could point to was the "border exception" upheld by courts as a valid Fourth Amendment bypass thanks to its national security nexus. But as for laws explicitly allowing the government to gather social media info from Americans, it had nothing.

Critics of this stepped-up demand for information point out it's a reactionary move by the DHS, aligning it with the repeated failures of the constantly one-step-behind-the-terrorists TSA.

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, said the expansion seems to originate from concerns about Tashfeen Malik, one of the San Bernardino shooters in late 2015.

“This is another example of the government changing security protocols based on a previous incident that will impose an enormous cost and that is of dubious value for the future,” Nowrasteh said. “Social media has been used in immigration courts for years but there’s little evidence that it’s helped with visa vetting.”

But it's not just libertarian-leaning entities making this point. DHS oversight has said the same thing. A report released by the DHS Inspector General says the DHS has no plan in place to measure the effectiveness of social media account searches.

[T]hese pilots, on which DHS plans to base future department-wide use of social media screening, lack criteria for measuring performance to ensure they meet their objectives. Although the pilots include some objectives, such as determining the effectiveness of an automated search tool and assessing data collection and dissemination procedures, it is not clear DHS is measuring and evaluating the pilots’ results to determine how well they are performing against set criteria. Absent measurement criteria, the pilots may provide limited information for planning and implementing an effective, department-wide future social media screening program.

As the report notes, the policy shift was inspired by a terrorist attack the searches might have done little to prevent. The pilot programs rolled out December 2015, meaning the planned intrusiveness expansion predates President Trump's grandiose border plans.

This is bound to have a chilling effect on Americans who don't even plan to travel out of the country. Anyone spending much time interacting with immigrants/visa holders/permanent residents on social media can expect to have their sides of conversations revealed by these searches, even if they're natural-born US citizens located well outside the DHS's Constitution-free zones. The latent threat of exposed convos could steer US citizens away from engaging with anyone whose nationality might not be 100% American.

The new rule is silent on the subject of passwords, but it's pretty clear reluctance to turn over this info will result in "incomplete" searches of immigrants' devices. The best case scenario is they're free to go… without their devices. The worst case is hours of detention while CBP/ICE agents attempt to talk detainees into handing over this information.


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  • identicon
    Jason, 27 Sep 2017 @ 10:45am

    This will affect all immigrants, whether or not their legal status says they should be treated like US citizens.

    That really won't matter all that much. No doubt an update expanding this to US citizens will be coming along sooner or later.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 2:41pm

      Re:

      They *are* US citizens.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 28 Sep 2017 @ 4:10am

        Re: Re:

        Remember that the human race originated in Africa, so all Americans are immigrants?
        Even if you don't believe that, all white Americans originate in Europe and are definately immigrants.
        It is a good reasoning to `legalise' collecting data on _all_ Americans.
        /s

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 2:16am

      Re:

      What's to keep the MOTHERFUCKERS from expanding the 100 mile border constitution exclusion zone from reaching from border to border?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Sep 2017 @ 10:49am

    Question

    Does Techdirt qualify as social media? I am a US citizen by birth, so I am not affected by this...directly...but the question of what is considered social media or not still comes up. If for no other reason than I fully expect, if they get away with this, that they will eventually demand everyone's social media handles, login's, passwords, and thoughts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ShadowNinja (profile), 27 Sep 2017 @ 11:02am

      Re: Question

      That's a good point.

      In the last year the SCOTUS struck down a bill banning sex offenders from using 'social media websites' because the term is too broad.

      The SCOTUS pointed out that sites most wouldn't consider 'social media' like Amazon could qualify as social media (because you can post reviews that anyone can read on the site, same with many other online retailers).

      And honestly, I have no freaking clue how many 'social media websites' I'm registered at. there's so many web forums I made an account at and either never posted, or made a couple posts and then never visited again.

      Also, what happens if you register a new account at a social media website after submitting the paperwork? Do you have to inform the government? Will the government believe you lied on your paperwork if you don't tell them because you didn't include that new account on your paperwork?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 11:24am

        Re: Re: Question

        Unless your given and surname are Shadow Ninja, I don’t think you have too much to worry about.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        TRX (profile), 28 Sep 2017 @ 7:34am

        Re: Re: Question

        At one time I was subscribed to almost a hundred mailing lists. Looking at my little pocket notebook by the keyboard and counting pages, it looks like I'm signed up with about that many web forums. Sometimes you have to do that to see pictures, etc.

        Some of those I went to once, for some specific purpose, and never returned. Others, I haven't logged in in so long I'm sure my account has timed out. I have no idea how many of the mailing lists might still be up, or if they're sending mail to a long-dead account.

        I tend to grab a freemail address to feed vendors or sites that won't complete a transaction without "your email." When I forget the address or password, I just get another one. There might be somewhere around a dozen accounts floating around out there that I don't even remember.

        Meanwhile, I don't Tweeter, or Tumbler, or ICU, or PCP, or whatever the new hotness is. I'm starting to come across more and more people whose only experience with the 'net is Failbook, and they can't understand why I'm not on it.

        Feh. You don't even need an account for usenet, which was arguably the first online "social media." rec.motorcycles FTW; the Denizens of Doom patch on my jacket is old and faded, but Geeky the Daemon still glares at the helots as I ride by. "Live to Flame - Flame to Live"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 11:06am

      Re: Question

      Are any of Techdirt's offices or servers located in a Constitution-free zone?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 11:25am

        Re: Re: Question

        Are any of Techdirt's offices or servers located in a Constitution-free zone?

        Techdirt is in the US, so, yes. Wait, did you mean the de facto Constitution-free zone or the de jure one (that only covers all points within 100 miles of a border)?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 7:57pm

          Re: Re: Re: Question

          techdirt.com whois records show Redwood City, which is right on the coast (i.e. the national border).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          carlb, 28 Sep 2017 @ 5:11am

          within 100 miles of a border?

          A lot of large organisations are within 100 miles of the Soviet Canuckistan border... Microsoft, Amazon, Kodak, GM, Ford, Chrysler. Everything from Seattle to Syracuse is potentially within that line.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 11:32am

        Re: Re: Question

        I don't know about their offices, but theirs servers are. The IP address comes back to Cloudflare, in San Francisco, where it would be within 100 miles of the coast.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 1:27pm

      Re: Question

      Probably not, since they do not require users to sign up and log in, that is probably different

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 10:59am

    The US is no longer the promise land it used to be. Immigrants are better off going elsewhere. Maybe most of us citizens are also better off going elsewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 27 Sep 2017 @ 11:00am

    What's funny is Trump's own immigrant grandfather couldn't get in under his rules.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Sep 2017 @ 11:11am

    I swear once upon a time there was this thing called the Bill of Rights...
    It would be nice if anyone capable of thought beyond grab it all & we'll save everyone & score a larger budget, was in charge.

    This will do nothing but be invasive & will end up being misused. Every fscking database we have in "trusted" hands, has been searched & picked over. Collections of naked photos of citizens, addresses of hot chicks they want to hit on, who their ex is dating. The punishments are always very quiet & its always an "isolated incident" the first 100 times...

    If I were crossing the border I REALLY don't want to deal with the agent who is SURE I have a FB account and I am just hiding it because EVERYONE has a FB.

    I really don't feel like exposing the different compartments my life is broken into.

    Last I checked, I was a US citizen and the law claims that they have to have suspicion & follow a legal process that requires more than an agent flexing his muscle to deep dive into my life. These bullshit border exceptions are invasive and DO NOTHING, except allow the government to collect even more data to add to a pile that maybe someday might be useful.

    I don't need some pissy CBP agent pulling me over because I'm within 100 miles of the border so I can be pulled over, detained, my rights abused because for some reason 100 miles inland is part of the country that the constitution & law doesn't cover any more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 11:45am

      Re:

      "Last I checked, I was a US citizen and the law claims that they have to have suspicion & follow a legal process that requires more than an agent flexing his muscle to deep dive into my life. These bullshit border exceptions are invasive and DO NOTHING, except allow the government to collect even more data to add to a pile that maybe someday might be useful."

      Last I checked your fellow citizens don't give a shit, and those here at TD will be the first tell you that it's not the citizens fault. Telling them that the people they vote for makes them accountable it considered victim blaming. They must be able to vote in a devil while simultaneously saying they had nothing to do with it.

      They will also support taking your liberty away while whining when their liberty is removed.

      Tough Titty, Said the Kitty!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 27 Sep 2017 @ 11:13am

    Great, one more item on the "Reasons to avoid the USA" list.

    Or, you know, set up fake pages so the voyeurs at the DHS can.. hmm... play with themselves using it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 11:23am

    Any people wonder why I want to keep posting as AC...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 2:03am

      Re:

      Nope not me. I'm fine with that and we really owe it to Mike Masnick for keeping anon cowards alive at techdirt. The rest of the world would squash us like a bug. Thx Mike!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 27 Sep 2017 @ 11:36am

    Screening

    > It applies to permanent residents and naturalized
    > citizens, not just visa applicants and visitors.

    > But as for laws explicitly allowing the government to
    > gather social media info from Americans, it had nothing.

    Of that list at the top, only one category contains 'Americans'. Permanent residents, visa applicants, and visitors are not Americans.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 11:59am

      Re: Screening

      If you're going to be pedantic, "American" refers to the inhabitants of two continents (or one, depending on how you define a continent), only about a third of whom are citizens of the United States of America.

      Of course, in this context, it's obvious that Tim means "residents of the U.S.A. with legal status that confers the same rights as citizenship upon them." In fact, the sentence before your first quote says:

      This will affect all immigrants, whether or not their legal status says they should be treated like US citizens.

      So, you're in that sad, grey area where you're being pedantic enough to miss the point, but not pedantic enough to be technically correct.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 7:42pm

        Re: Re: Screening

        So, you're in that sad, grey area where you're being pedantic enough to miss the point, but not pedantic enough to be technically correct.

        And you're just ignorant enough to not know the difference between a geographical description and a national one.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 8:00pm

        Re: Re: Screening

        > If you're going to be pedantic, "American" refers to the inhabitants of two continents (or one, depending on how you define a continent)

        Trust me, nobody in those continents outside of the USA is calling themselves "American" unless prefixed with North or South. It used to mean what you say, but that meaning is dead now; nobody wants to risk being confused for a US citizen these days.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        TRX (profile), 28 Sep 2017 @ 7:42am

        Re: Re: Screening

        1) the British Parliament named us "British America" while we were still a colony. We just dropped the "British" part.

        2) we're the oldest continuous polity in the New World

        3) we were the first, so so far the only, polity to include "America" in our name when we became independent

        It's okay to say "America" to mean "United States of America." After all, you wouldn't want to use "United States", and have someone confuse it with the Estados Unidos de Mexico south of us.

        Now, the Canadians who keep calling themselves "North Americans", I'm not sure what's up with that... It's nothing to be ashamed of, though the Newfies might regret it in their more sober moments.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        btr1701 (profile), 29 Sep 2017 @ 3:46pm

        Re: Re: Screening

        > If you're going to be pedantic, "American" refers to the
        > inhabitants of two continents

        I'm not being pedantic, I'm being accurate, especially in a time when it seems to have become de rigeur to treat anyone with even a passing brush with the United States as entitled to all rights and benefits of citizenship.

        "American" in this context refers to the United States. In that context, permanent residents, visa applicants, and visitors are not Americans.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, 27 Sep 2017 @ 11:59am

    This is pre-set for failure

    We all know -- or should know -- at this point that the social media sites are managed by spineless cowards (I'm looking at you, Twitter) and operated by ignorant newbies. That's why they're textbook examples of large-scale incompetence and negligence, and that in turn is why they're overrun with abusers, manipulators, and bots.

    So what, exactly, will happen when someone decides to fabricate social media profiles (individually or en masse) for immigrants who don't have them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 12:18pm

    Papers Please

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pedro, 27 Sep 2017 @ 12:32pm

    Manipulate attitude and expectations. Appreciate nowness, right here.

    I ain't got no stinkin' computer, or accounts...

    Necessary coins are fragmented and dispersed.

    I go to library if need be. Occasionally browse on borrowed computers, and drive borrowed cars, in exchange for work and favors.

    No phone, either. Have map for public phones, when needed.

    Works for me.

    Simplify.

    Why go over there when I can stand here, and not be hassled by goons with attitude? Don't want or need a lot of useless things and events.

    Shine on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 27 Sep 2017 @ 12:48pm

    Товарищ, вы слишком много работали. Иди отдохни.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 12:52pm

    So everyone has to suffer from this Stasi bullshit in the hope that the people the government is actually interested in will for some reason hand over account details that they know will set off alarm bells and get them deported or worse?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 2:17pm

    I guess it will be virtually impossible to prove you don't have any social media accounts or aliases if you don't have any. What then? I guess you're FUCKED..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 27 Sep 2017 @ 2:40pm

      Re:

      Don't you know, everyone is a secret(or not so secret) exhibitionist, eager to tell everyone the most minute details of their life. Therefore everyone has a FB account, and the lack of one can only be a deliberate attempt to hide the most nefarious of crimes.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 2:09am

        Re: Re:

        Doesn't that fall onto burdon of proof?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 28 Sep 2017 @ 5:08am

          Re: Re: Re:

          In that you've got the burden, and they demand the proof of your innocence, sure.

          I was being sarcastic, but only slightly, as you can be sure 'I do not have social media accounts' will almost certainly be treated little different than 'I have accounts, but I'm not going to give you the details'. In both cases they are demanding you hand something over and you're refusing, and if they simply decide that you're lying about having accounts... well, have fun proving a negative.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 27 Sep 2017 @ 3:05pm

    "Terrorism? Oh yeah, that thing, no this is totally for that, promise."

    [T]hese pilots, on which DHS plans to base future department-wide use of social media screening, lack criteria for measuring performance to ensure they meet their objectives.

    No way to measure performance means it becomes entirely subjecting how 'successful' the program is, and I can't help but suspect that that's by design. If they were to set out some hard criteria, some milestones to check against then they'd have to carefully monitor the program, keeping track of what they are doing and how well it meets the those milestones.

    Although the pilots include some objectives, such as determining the effectiveness of an automated search tool and assessing data collection and dissemination procedures, it is not clear DHS is measuring and evaluating the pilots’ results to determine how well they are performing against set criteria.

    And then we get to what those objectives are, and it seems they're using the program to test how well they can sift through people's data looking for interesting tidbits. They're rolling out a highly invasive program to rummage through people's personal accounts to test how well the programs they have can do that.

    Yeah, that's totally a valid justification for the new requirements. /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2017 @ 3:49pm

    Ahhh - yes sir, the handle name is Anonymous Coward.
    No, I am not trying to be a smart guy sir - that is the handle that I use.

    No, I did not make that particular post sir - that was some other Anonymous Coward, not me.
    No, I am not trying to be a smart guy - that is the name many people use on this and other websites

    What do you mean that is illegal? It is not impersonation nor is it identity theft ... it is the way many people post to the internet .... I give up - ok you got me, I do not actually use that site.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 2:24am

    What's to keep the motherfucker$ from expanding the constitution free zone from border to border?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 2:35am

    Americans should be protesting the 100 mile zone excluding the constitution. I am a sovereign citizen of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Do not tread on me. Do not confront me if you are not protecting the Constitution of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA you have swarn to uphold and protect with your life. Do Not Even Look At Me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 2:58am

    pointlss

    If someone did have evil intent (and the odd brain cell).
    ... Chances are they would have "tame" social media accounts, e.g. obviously in their name, full of innocuous stuff
    .. They would NOT have accounts with lots of pro Jihadi, N Korea or whatever posts (splice in whatever is this weeks top "terrorist" flavour)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 28 Sep 2017 @ 5:03am

      Really now, what kind of people do you take them for?

      Wait a tic, are you saying that a terrorist/would-be-terrorist would not have 'TERRORIST' listed in the 'about me' section of their social media accounts?

      I've got to say I find this insanely hard to believe. I mean sure, they might want to cause death and destruction and panic, but to lie? That I just struggle to believe they would find acceptable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 7:18am

    So terrorists are just going to maintain a second, innocuous social media account. This is about population control. It will do nothing for terrorism and they fucking know it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 11:25am

    The problem with this will be the old people who have never had social media.

    What would have happened to my mother if she were still alive. She was an immigrant from Australia, and would be in her 80s if she were still alive and likely not even HAVE social media.

    What about all four of my grandparents who were immigrants to America and were all naturalised US citizens, 2 from Australia, one from Germany, and one from what was the Ottoman Empire.

    That is something that DHS is going to have deal with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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