Federal Gov't Gives Customs Officers Permission To Break Social Media Platform Rules Forbidding Fake Accounts

from the all-in-service-of-the-greater-good dept

The scanning of visa and green card applicants' social media accounts during the application process continues to escalate. Even though the program hasn't shown itself to be effective in keeping the country free of terrorists or criminals, the DHS and its components continue to believe this is an essential part of our national security infrastructure.

If the ultimate goal is to create a worldwide chilling effect on speech, then this program is coming along nicely. Knowing immigration and customs officers are going to be taking a deep dive into your social media accounts results in a lot of self-censorship, since it's not entirely clear what screeners are looking for. Presumably, this has been left to officers' discretion, which means it's a "we'll know it when we see it" situation.

Performing a deep dive means having access to as much of an account as possible. Limits placed on site visitors without an account appears to be frustrating customs officers. So, they've officially been given permission to create fake accounts to better access the content they're screening.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers can now create fictitious social media accounts to monitor social media information on foreigners seeking visas, green cards and citizenship.

An updated Homeland Security Department review of potential privacy issues dated July 2019 that was posted online on Friday essentially reversed a prior ban on officers creating fake profiles.

A USCIS statement explaining the change says fake accounts and identities will make it easier for investigators to search for potential evidence of fraud or security concerns as they decide whether to allow someone entry into the U.S.

The federal government may say it's okay for personnel to do this. But it's not okay with the platforms they'll be using. Twitter immediately offered a statement pointing out the creation of fake accounts (and the use of Twitter data for "persistent surveillance") violates its terms of use.

Facebook -- which has already pointed this out to local law enforcement agencies -- said the same thing in the statement it released the day after the USCIS gave customs officers the fake account green light.

“Law enforcement authorities, like everyone else, are required to use their real names on Facebook and we make this policy clear,” Facebook spokeswoman Sarah Pollack told The Associated Press in a statement Tuesday. “Operating fake accounts is not allowed, and we will act on any violating accounts.”

I guess maintaining law and order means breaking the rules. I imagine the DHS and its components will proceed with their fake account creation despite these statements because without an account, passive surveillance of foreigners will be much more limited.

For whatever it's worth, the USCIS has placed some limits on the use of fake social media accounts. They can only be used to passively view targeted accounts and aren't allowed to "follow" or "friend" any targeted accounts. Officers must also undergo annual training, although what that entails hasn't been described in detail.

Foreigners planning to visit the United States are at the mercy of an ultra-vague policy that encourages federal officers to violate the policies of privately-owned social media platforms. No doubt this will turn out well for everyone involved and not result in a ton of abuse.

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Filed Under: dhs, fake accounts, social media, surveillance


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2019 @ 9:37am

    It is not just what you post, but what your friends post that might stop you taking up your place at Harvard.


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