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.

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


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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 6 Sep 2019 @ 8:10am

    'We enforce (our version of) the rules, we don't follow them.'

    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.

    Because nothing sends a strong message that obeying the rules put in place is a good thing and violating them is a bad thing than the government making clear that they believe themselves to be completely above any pesky 'rules' that anyone else might have, able to ignore them on a whim.

    Nope, nothing like leading by example by holding everyone not in your group to standards that you yourself flaunt and ignore simply because it's easier on you to do so.

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

  2. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 6 Sep 2019 @ 8:50am

    Execu-branch, we don't need no stink'n rules

    It occurs to me that there have been some instances where someone de-platformed from one social media site or another, who then sued. When they got to court, the company tells the judge that their TOS was violated, and the court agrees. Now, the executive branch is saying that violating the TOS is perfectly OK. How is that not a slap in the face to the judiciary? What will happen when this 'rule making' winds up in front of a judge?

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

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2019 @ 9:25am

    Re: Execu-branch, we don't need no stink'n rules

    How about all the times the government prosecuted someone under the CFAA for violating a site's TOS?

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

  4. icon
    Gary (profile), 6 Sep 2019 @ 9:28am

    Sharp Decison

    Don't worry, Cadet Bonespurs has his sharpie ready - he'll just cross off the parts of the TOS he doesn't like!

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

  5. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    The EYE OF DORIAN is upon you!, 6 Sep 2019 @ 9:35am

    You think corporations are above government?

    I guess maintaining law and order means breaking the rules.

    Corporations, kids, are mechanisms that The Public ALLOWS to serve OUR purposes. They are NOT persons with ANY degree of "rights".

    taking a deep dive into your social media accounts

    NO, not into mine, but those of FOREIGNERS who are ASKING to be let into MY country, as you set up in prior paragraph

    visa and green card applicants

    APPLICANTS. The US does not have to allow them. Only on our terms.

    Nor does the government have to abide by TOS. They don't need no stinking new law, either. It's an inherent power of gov't. If those corporations make a fuss, then executives should be arrested and jailed until change their mind. Period.

    This is not only all right with me, most people, and thousands of public servants defending my country, but exactly what's needed. You foreigners / idiots who think otherwise can lump it. I invite you to go to ANY other country and try to find one that just waves you in, you IDIOT. You can STAY there, too, enjoying socialism and gun-free zones.

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

  6. 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.

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2019 @ 10:02am

    Friday deep thoughts:

    The terrorist won.
    They attack us: 911
    We attack each other in fear: The Patriot Act

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

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2019 @ 10:06am

    Re: You think corporations are above government?

    Corporations, kids, are mechanisms that The Public ALLOWS to serve OUR purposes. They are NOT persons with ANY degree of "rights".

    The Supreme Court disagrees with you, e.g. the Citizen United decision.

    taking a deep dive into your social media accounts

    NO, not into mine, but those of FOREIGNERS who are ASKING to be let into MY country, as you set up in prior paragraph

    And the USCIS has such an impeccable record of only focusing on foreign applicants attempting to enter the country, as opposed to US citizens attempting to return from foreign travels.

    APPLICANTS. The US does not have to allow them. Only on our terms.

    I'm sure there were some Native Americans who felt the same when the Pilgrims landed. This country has always been a country of immigrants.

    Nor does the government have to abide by TOS.

    Nor does a private company have to allow the government on it's site, or be forced to allow violations of it's TOS at the government's order unless there is a law or court order directing them to do so.

    They don't need no stinking new law, either. It's an inherent power of gov't.

    Damn pesky 10th Amendment begs to differ.

    If those corporations make a fuss, then executives should be arrested and jailed until change their mind. Period.

    Better find a valid law to charge these executives under., otherwise those damn pesky 4th and 5th Amendments will get in the way. Guess the government does need a law to do this doesn't it?

    This is not only all right with me, most people, and thousands of public servants defending my country, but exactly what's needed.

    Your view of "Me, myself and I" doesn't represnt "most people".

    You foreigners / idiots who think otherwise can lump it. I invite you to go to ANY other country and try to find one that just waves you in, you IDIOT. You can STAY there, too, enjoying socialism and gun-free zones.

    Your family was foreigners here at one time too. Only an idiot would forget that fact.

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

  9. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 6 Sep 2019 @ 10:16am

    Corporations, kids, are mechanisms that The Public ALLOWS to serve OUR purposes.

    If this were even remotely true, corporations would’ve fixed the pipes in Flint, Michigan years ago. Corporations serve only themselves (i.e., their greedy, wealth-hoarding CEOs); that the public may benefit from what a corporation does is a mere coincidence.

    NO, not into mine, but those of FOREIGNERS who are ASKING to be let into MY country, as you set up in prior paragraph

    And if you think the United States government would stop with the social media accounts of foreign citizens entering the country for any reason, you sorely underestimate the United States government.

    APPLICANTS. The US does not have to allow them.

    Which is why people apply for a green card: So the U.S. government can determine whether to allow them legal citizenship.

    It's an inherent power of gov't. If those corporations make a fuss, then executives should be arrested and jailed until change their mind.

    The funny thing is, for all your bitching about censorship, the idea that the government could censor other people (or corporations) by chilling their speech over concerns of governmental “wiretapping” never seems to have crossed your mind.

    You can STAY there, too, enjoying socialism and gun-free zones.

    You say that like affordable healthcare, a healthy social safety net for the less fortunate, and places not having mass casualty shootings every 10 days or so are bad things.

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

  10. icon
    renato (profile), 6 Sep 2019 @ 10:17am

    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.

    If they cannot interact with the targeted accounts, why do they need a fake account?
    It looks like on those terms, the fake accounts are only used to bypass the requirement of an account to view the site contents, and even a official account from the DHS or the specific department would do the job.

    The only explanation I can see is infiltrating semi-private groups on facebook, but it is not clear how it can be done or its usefulness.

    It seems that it is just a remaining process that could work if the accounts were able to interact with the targets.
    And, as the linked article also says, in the case of San Bernadino shooting, which motivated the increase of social media checking, the fiancee of the shooter was not screened, but also she and the shooter were using aliases.
    This means, that their aim is completely misguided and doomed to fail by design, only catching the ones with the worst possible OPSEC.

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

  11. icon
    TasMot (profile), 6 Sep 2019 @ 10:18am

    This sounds just like the CFAA cases that have been brought against non-government "persons". Who is going to be the first one to bring a CFAA case against the government for violating enforcement procedures and violating TOS that were agreed to when the accounts were created? Lawsuit anyone (and of course it is only going to cost us 'civilians' millions of dollars to defend this agency's indiscretions.

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

  12. icon
    norahc (profile), 6 Sep 2019 @ 10:20am

    As an old fart with no social media presence like Twitter or.Facebook, I guess i'd be screwed trying to reenter this country.

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

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2019 @ 10:27am

    another string in the bow of the United Police States of America!

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2019 @ 10:48am

    so perhaps some level of IP blocking may come into play....

    ... where accounts created from government IP addresses or geolocations, or primarily accessed through same, might get blocked.

    So either you're a fake account created by the government to access an account, or your a legit account getting snooped by the government directly.

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

  15. icon
    tom (profile), 6 Sep 2019 @ 10:51am

    Stock up on popcorn. This could turn into an entertaining event as several entities with deep pockets argue over just how enforceable TOS are and the penalties for deliberately violating them.

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

  16. icon
    Tribune (profile), 6 Sep 2019 @ 11:07am

    Do they get qualified immunity under the CFAA for TOS violations?

    How would that work?

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2019 @ 12:31pm

    Re: Re: Execu-branch, we don't need no stink'n rules

    Is this the same one where the defendant killed themselves because of how many years in jail they faced?

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Sep 2019 @ 6:37am

    Fake accounts today, inject into existing accounts tomorrow.

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

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Sep 2019 @ 9:45am

    "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."

    So? Terms of use aren't legal contracts. It is, and always has been, ok to make fake social media accounts. Whether you work in law enforcement has no bearing on that.

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


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