U.S. to Begin Collecting Social Media Information on All Immigrants

Starting October 18, as part of a new tracking system, the Department of Homeland Security will collect social media and internet data on U.S. immigrants, including lawful permanent residents, and naturalized citizens.  This new plan will coincide with the start of the White House’s new travel restrictions on citizens from Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, North Korea, and Venezuela.

The data collection plan covers things like Facebook and Twitter, and potentially even Google search results.  All of the data collected will be placed into the person’s “alien file,” a record kept by Homeland Security on every person in the United States who was not born in the country.  The new rule, as listed in the Federal Register, says that data will come from “publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, [and] commercial data providers.”  This new rule comes in addition to the Trump Administration’s action in June to require all visa applicants to fill out a questionnaire that includes all social media handles used in the previous five years.

The Obama Administration had instituted a smaller scale version of this type of monitoring following the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California in 2015, which was committed by two people born in Pakistan, one a U.S. citizen and the other a lawful permanent resident.  Under that program, the government asked for the social media account names of select foreign travelers entering under a “Visa Waiver,” a program permitting certain people from designated countries – mostly in Europe, East Asia, and Australia – to enter the United States without a visa.  The Trump Administration’s plan expands this additional screening to anyone entering the U.S.

The NMM Immigration Blog will continue to provide updates on this issue as the new screening procedures are rolled out in late October.  If you have questions about this post or other immigration topics, please contact me at wcmenard@nmmlaw.com.

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