Proposal to monitor social media comes under criticism

A coalition of 28 organizations including the ACLU and the Center for Democracy and Technology signed a letter on Monday expressing opposition to the Department of Homeland Security’s proposal to include social media in its review of visa-waiver applicants.

The groups argued that such a proposal would not be effective, would cost too much and would impinge on privacy. The letter also expressed concern that Arab-Americans and Muslims could be unfairly targeted.

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“The risk of discrimination based on analysis of social media content and connections is great and will fall hardest on Arab and Muslim communities,” the letter stated. “Cultural and linguistic barriers increase the risk that social media activity will be misconstrued.”

The Department of Homeland Security published the measure on June 23.

“Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case,” the department wrote.

The groups’ letter contested this, saying that the DHS’s justification “reflects a misplaced faith in both the accuracy of information on social media and the likelihood of relevant self-disclosures.”

“Individuals who pose a threat to the United States are highly unlikely to volunteer online identifiers tied to information that would raise questions about their admissibility to the United States,” the letter states.

The groups also slammed the potential costs of the proposal, writing that “the scale and scope of this program would lead to a significant expansion of intelligence activity,” making it “prohibitively expensive to implement and maintain.”

If it goes into effect, the DHS proposal would affect applicants of the I-94 and I-94W forms and the online portal, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. Changes to the I-94 and I-94W forms affect non-U.S. citizens and residents who want to enter the U.S. as a nonimmigrant for 90 or fewer days.

“While we understand the security concerns that motivate this proposal,” the letter concludes, “we believe it would irresponsibly shift government resources to a costly and ineffective program while invading the privacy of not just visa-waiver applicants, but also their contacts in the U.S.”