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Homeland Security will monitor social media records of immigrants

Starting on October 18, the digital lives of immigrants living in Florida and across the United States will be monitored even more closely through the expansion of a new policy adopted by the Department of Homeland Security. This new policy, which was published on the Federal Register in mid-September, directs immigration agents to collect certain information on foreigners, specifically what DHS describes as "social media handles" and internet search engine results.

The Federal Register web page where the policy has been posted is open for public comments and has thus far attracted more than 800 entries from privacy advocates, organizations and individuals who are strongly opposed to this new measure. Once enacted, the "alien files" collected under the directives of the 1974 Privacy Act will be expanded to include information about the social media lives of immigrants, green card holders and even naturalized citizens. Essentially, most foreign-born individuals in the U.S. will be subject to additional surveillance.

As can be expected, immigration attorneys and free speech advocates have expressed deep concern over this intended measure, which dates back to surveillance initiatives explored by the Obama administration and greatly expanded by the Trump administration. Aside from privacy concerns, critics have underscored the additional costs that such measures would bring; these costs are often passed on to immigrants in the form of higher filing and processing fees.

Once the measure goes into effect, individuals seeking permanent residence, political asylum or other immigration benefits could have more reasons to retain proper counsel. The use of social media activity in deportation cases may inflate the dockets at the Board of Immigration Appeals once benefits start being declined based on internet postings and search queries.

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