At a recent tech conference the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement offered the first glimpse of their immigrant social media monitoring program.
The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials discussed the latest updates on the visa vetting program, which monitors the social media communications of Visa applicants. DHS and ICE also detailed their expectation of software designers interested in partnering with the U.S. government. According to a recent report from ProPublica, the agencies want algorithms which assess whether or not visa holders are potential threats, as well as ongoing social media surveillance of “high risk” individuals.
Louis Rodi, deputy assistant director of ICE Homeland Security Investigations’ National Security Program, said the Trump administration is looking for a tool with “risk-based matrices” which can predict dangers posed by visa holders and applicants. Rodi also wants full-time surveillance of the individuals throughout their stay in the United States of America. At the conference Rodi stated, “We have millions and millions and millions of people coming every year, and subsequently departing, so we have to be smart about it.”
The comments provide the first clear blueprint for ICE’s proposed augmentation of its visa-vetting program. The initial announcement of the plans this summer, viewed as part of President Donald Trump’s calls for the “extreme vetting” of visitors from Muslim countries, stoked a public outcry from immigrants and civil liberties advocates. They argued that such a plan would discriminate against Muslim visitors and potentially place a huge number of individuals under watch.
ICE officials subsequently changed the program’s name to “Visa Lifecycle Vetting.” But, according to the ICE presentation, the goal of the initiative — enhanced monitoring of visa holders using social media — remains the same.
Activist Post recently reported that the DHS was asking officers to include social media data and search results within the department’s files on immigrants in America. “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,” Adam Schwartz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told BuzzFeed News at the time. The rule could also affect U.S. citizens who use social media to communicate with immigrants.
Rodi also discussed the possibly of having automated notifications regarding social media activity that indicates a danger. The DHS currently monitors social media accounts from their eight Homeland Security Investigation posts. Rodi indicated the DHS will expand the number of social media monitoring stations. Of course, Rodi stated that it was not him pushing this agenda of pre-crime and surveillance, but that it was a result of the Trump administration being “big” on immigration enforcement. “Maybe it’s an administrative violation — it’s still a crime. These people need to pay. They can’t get away with it,” Rodi stated.
Despite the calls for stricter immigration enforcement, civil liberties advocates believe there is more to the story and a grave potential for danger to privacy and Constitutional protections. Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology, told ProPublica that ICE is “building a dangerously broad tool that could be used to justify excluding, or deporting, almost anyone.”
The DHS is also facing backlash for their program which involves taking cellphones or laptops at border crossings. Activist Post recently reported the DHS is facing a federal class action lawsuit for violating the rights of people crossing the U.S. border by searching (and confiscating) their laptops and cell phones.
In addition, a group of more than 50 tech experts recently sent a letter to the head of the DHS warning about the implementation of the social media monitoring program. The group of computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and other experts say they have “grave concerns regarding Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) proposed “Extreme Vetting Initiative” and believe the program cannot “provide reliable or objective assessments of the traits that ICE seeks to measure.” The experts go on to state that the proposed system would likely be “inaccurate and biased.”
Will the federal government listen to the frustration of the people? Or will they continue the march towards a totalitarian police and surveillance state?
Derrick Broze is an investigative journalist and liberty activist. He is the Lead Investigative Reporter for ActivistPost.com and the founder of the TheConsciousResistance.com. Follow him on Twitter. Derrick is the author of three books: The Conscious Resistance: Reflections on Anarchy and Spirituality and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 1 and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 2
Derrick is available for interviews. Please contact [email protected]
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