Homeland Security will soon start tracking social media of immigrant applicants

FILE - Tablet (Nexstar File Photo)
FILE - Tablet (Nexstar File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some immigration attorneys are worried a small change in how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) monitors social media for immigrants could soon have a big impact.

“We’re not sure what it’s going to mean,” Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, an immigration attorney based in Austin, said.

In September, DHS posted a notice on the Federal Register, where it states starting Oct. 18, the official record of an individual’s immigration history will be expanded to include a person’s “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information and search results.” This would apply to people attempting to enter the country and those in the country applying for immigration status.

Lincoln-Goldfinch says this change leads to many questions about how social media information will be perceived by immigration authorities.

“Does this mean if somebody puts a post on Facebook saying something negative about the administration, there could be backlash against them as a result?” she said.

She also wonders if this could eventually be overreaching.

“I’m concerned overall about this privacy invasion,” Lincoln-Goldfinch said. “I think it’s very concerning. I myself have many friends on social media sites who are immigrants or who have been immigrants. Does that mean I’m going to be monitored now?”

However, a DHS spokesperson said in an emailed statement this amendment to collecting immigration records “does not represent a new policy.”

“DHS, in its law-enforcement and immigration process capacity, has and continues to monitor publicly-available social media to protect the homeland,” Joanne Talbot with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Public Affairs said.

“In an effort to be transparent, to comply with existing regulations and due to updates in the electronic immigration system, DHS decided to update its corresponding Privacy Act system of records. DHS published this notice… with the administrative requirements of the Privacy Act to help address these requirements, not launch a new policy initiative.”

Talbot also noted the privacy policy for the operational use of social media was published in 2012. There is a public comment period through next Wednesday on the Federal Register’s website.

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