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The U.S. government will start collecting social media information on immigrants and naturalized citizens

The Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) has announced a significant expansion in the kinds of data it collects on immigrants residing in the United States, including permanent residents and naturalized citizens. The new information includes social media and search result information, according to a new report in Buzzfeed.

The D.H.S. has added 12 new kinds of information that may be collected on an individual’s immigration file. These include “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results.” These rules will take effect on October 18, 2017.

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“We see this as part of a larger process of high-tech surveillance of immigrants and more and more people being subjected to social media screening,” Adam Schwartz, an attorney and privacy and free expression advocate with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told BuzzFeed. “There’s a growing trend at the Department of Homeland Security to be snooping on the social media of immigrants and foreigners and we think it’s an invasion of privacy and deters freedom of speech.”

Under these guidelines, any person who corresponds with an immigrant or naturalized citizen could have these conversations monitored by the U.S. government and its allies. The push to trawl social media to prevent acts of domestic terrorism began under the Obama administration, according to Faiza Patel of the Brennan Center for Liberty. A study published in Fenruary by the Office of Inspector General found that social media monitoring of immigrants “lacked criteria to determine if it’s effective.”

When reached by Gizmodo, Joanne F. Talbot from DHS Office of Public Affairs issued the following statement:

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“This amendment 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.”

“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 in the Federal Register on Sept. 18 to comply with the administrative requirements of the Privacy Act to help address these requirements, not launch a new policy initiative.”

Report: The U.S. government will start collecting social media information on immigrants and naturalized citizens

Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Elaine Duke talks to reporters. September 26, 2017.   Photo by Chip Somodevilla for Getty Images

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