ArsTechnica: Congressman demands to know if DHS will collect his social media history, too

September 30, 2017
In The News

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles) is a naturalized American citizen, having emigrated from Taiwan as a young child.

Earlier this month, under a new proposed policy, the Department of Homeland Security said it will begin collecting public social media information about immigrants—possibly also green card holders and naturalized citizens—and include them as part of their so-called "Alien File."

Because of this ambiguity, Rep. Lieu—who is very active on Twitter—has a basic question in a Friday letter for Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke: "Does your proposed rule apply to me?"

Lieu, who said he has lived in the United States for over four decades and who holds the rank of colonel in the United States Air Force Reserves, also raised concerns that if enacted, the rule will be ineffective. Why does he think this? Because DHS’ own inspector general report found in February 2017 that previous "social media screening" pilot programs "lack criteria for measuring performance to ensure they meet their objectives."

The move has also come under fire from advocacy groups, notably the American Civil Liberties Union.

"This Privacy Act notice makes clear that the government intends to retain the social media information of people who have immigrated to this country, singling out a huge group of people to maintain files on what they say," Faiz Shakir of the ACLU said in a statement. "This would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the free speech that’s expressed every day on social media. This collect-it-all approach is ineffective to protect national security and is one more example of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda."

Meanwhile, DHS spokesman David Lapan said in accordance with department policy, it would not "comment on correspondence with the Secretary."

"However, this amendment does not represent a new policy," he added in an e-mail to Ars. "DHS, in its law-enforcement and immigration-process capacity, has and continues to monitor publicly-available social media to protect the homeland."

Lapan explained that the new entry in the Federal Registry was simply a notice to comply with administrative requirements.