In 2010, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reported on an interesting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made to the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about its monitoring of social media accounts in relation to immigration petitions.
According to the results of that above-mentioned FOIA request, DHS saw value in reviewing the social media accounts of immigrants seeking legal residency in the U.S. Specifically, the DHS believed that case adjudicators working for Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could observe the daily lives of applicants suspected of fraud or other activities not conducive to residency.
Nearly six years after the EFF made its FOIA findings public, USCIS case adjudicators indicated to members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) that social media monitoring continues to be reviewed as part of the green card application process, particularly when the petitioner is married to a U.S. citizen.
Although the USCIS has indicated that monitoring social media can open the door to certain concerns related to privacy, the pilot project is supposed to continue for the purpose of adjudication. Another concern is that there are no standard operating procedures in place for USCIS staff to use social media as part of the petition process, and this is something that worries AILA members. For the time being, USCIS officials have explained that they would disclose social media monitoring to applicants whenever derogatory information has been found.
As expected, Facebook is the online social network that is being monitored the most by USCIS case adjudicators, and the most common purpose is to question the validity and good faith of residency by virtue of marriage to a U.S. citizen. Adjudicators often try to discern whether either the applicant or the spouse is being unfaithful, or if they seem to be having a very close relationship with someone on Facebook. Naturally, this can raise major privacy concerns for couples whose lifestyles are of an open nature.
In the end, immigrants going through the green card process should be mindful that their social media accounts could be monitored by USCIS, which means that they should tighten their privacy controls and perhaps discuss this matter with their San Diego immigration lawyer.
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