Social Media Surveillance and Immigration

For immigration activists, social media is an effective tool to connect and mobilize supporters. Yet some are finding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) scrutinizing their online activity and sharing this information about immigrants and their advocates with government agencies. Many are questioning if the government’s surveillance of online activity violates individuals’ civil liberties and right to privacy.

A report published by the NYU School of Law Brennan Center for Justice details how the DHS utilizes social media in nearly all of their operations. For example, the government just gained approval to request social media handles from all visa applicants and use them to be vetted against existing DHS information. At this time, social media alone is not grounds for denial, but can be cause for exclusion when combined with other extenuating factors.

How the Government is Using Social Media Information

The following are just a few of the ways the DHS is using social media surveillance to impact immigration matters in the United States:

  • A Virginia-based firm collected Facebook information on more than 600 different events protesting family separation. DHS received this information and passed it on to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and fusion centers located in states and urban areas throughout the country.
  • Homeland Security Investigations compiled and shared details on anti-family separation protests, labeling them “Anti Trump Protests.”
  • DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) created files on activists, journalists, and immigration lawyers offering support to protesters at the southern border.

Social Media Surveillance at the Border

Visitors to the border should be prepared to surrender phones, iPads, laptops and other electronic devices at the United States border for unscheduled, warrantless searches by CBP and United States Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE.) Many CBP searches up to this point appear to be random, with around one-fifth of social media surveillance being done on travelers who are U.S. citizens. Between the years 2015 and 2017, CBP searches increased more than threefold.

Grounds for Social Media Searches

ICE uses a ten-year-old policy sanctioning “search, detain, seize, retain, and share” electronic devices and the info contained within them without specific suspicion. This policy is based on a 1790 Act giving customs officers the authority to search “merchandise” brought into the United States by early visitors. Those opposed to this type of social media surveillance say this logic is outdated and hardly applies to modern technology.

Federal immigration agency surveillance of social media has yet to be proven beneficial or even effective. Twenty to thirty percent of text decoded using automated analysis tools is inaccurate. Slang, nuances in language, and foreign references are not easily translatable, making the value of these searches questionable. Immigration advocates want defined guidelines and oversight to ensure social media surveillance is fair, reasonable, and always in our best interests as a nation.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Protect Clients’ Civil Rights

The seasoned Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. work tirelessly to protect the rights of every client facing a pressing immigration matter. With the language barrier and fear of removal, undocumented immigrants often hesitate to advocate for themselves and their loved ones. Our dedicated attorneys take the time and care your visa, sponsorship, or citizenship matter deserves, empowering you to make smart decisions for you and your family. To schedule a consultation in our Philadelphia office, call 215-925-4435 or contact us online. The firm represents clients throughout the state of Pennsylvania and nationwide.