The State Department Expands Personal Data Collection of US Immigrants

In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had announced the revision of some visa forms to include information covering the visa applicant’s social media foot print. Now the DHS has decided to expand this requirement further to other US visas and include both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants. These changes will be implemented next year, in 2020.

15 million travelers to the US on various visas were impacted by this data collection. And now, a move to expand it comes to haunt a much larger community of immigrants and non-immigrants to the US. Below are some of the salient features of this new social media expansion project –

  • Social Media identifiers will be collected from most foreign travelers as well as applicants seeking immigration benefits.
  • Besides, the expansion of collecting social media identifiers is going to affect nine more USCIS programs including applications for naturalization and asylum, visa waivers, visa updates and the Electronic System for Travel Authorization document.
  • Customs and Border Protection Forces will retain this information for 3 years in an active database and 12 years in an archived database.
  • The information collected by the Electronic Visa Update System, an automated system to determine eligibility to travel to the US on a 10-year visitor visa, will be archived for 12 years.
  • Should any of this data be linked to law enforcement, then it will be available for life unless the particular activity has been expunged.
  • In addition, Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) recently announced the use of fake social media accounts and identities to review social media activity of the public in order to isolate threats and detect fraud in the immigration system.
  • CIS could utilize this information as an authority to supervise and approve or disapprove of certain rhetoric on this media thereby, controlling free ‘online’ speech.

Which Social Media Handles will be Vetted?

DHS will request the usernames and other identifiers of the following Social media platforms –

  • Facebook,
  • Instagram,
  • Reddit,
  • Weibo,
  • Myspace,
  • YouTube and
  • Linkedin

This change in seeking extensive social media information came to light when a Harvard student was returned from a US port of entry after his social media handle was ascertained to have ideologies not conforming to that of US. The Trump administration had instigated extreme vetting in 2017 and this has expanded to the current visas today.

Everything you should know about USCIS vetting your social media handles?