The United States Department of Homeland Security will soon add “social media handles” and plenty more information to immigration records.
The changes, outlined in a Notice published late on Monday afternoon US time, update data it is permissible for the Department to collect under the Privacy Act of 1974.
Some of the changes are administrative: the Notice says one purpose of the new system is to create a single, consolidated, record of immigrants' history rather than relying on disparate data help by several agencies. But the Notice also lists several new sources of data that will be included in that single record, namely “country of nationality; country of residence; the USCIS Online Account Number; social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results; and the Department of Justice (DOJ), Executive Office for Immigration Review and Board of Immigration Appeals proceedings information”.
The new records can also include “publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers, and information obtained and disclosed pursuant to information sharing agreements.”
The new rules apply to naturalized citizens of the United States and new immigrants, and come into force on October 18th.
The Notice was posted late in the afternoon, Pacific Time. Commentators and civil liberties groups are therefore unavailable for comment at the time of writing.
That the new rules were announced not long after US president Donald Trump unveiled a revived travel ban suggests they are a part of the Tweeter-in-Chief's national security plans. If that is the case, the new measures may be a reaction to allegations that San Bernardino shooters Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik used their social media accounts to call for jihad before moving to the United States. It later transpired that the pair had discussed jihad using social media services' messaging facilities, rather than posting their sentiments openly.
The new Notice is unclear on whether authorities will be able to compel the provision of passwords to let them read messages sent with social media services, but the NSA has proven adept at such feats. ®