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Immigration, Counterterrorism and Social Media

Immigration, counterterrorism and social media. We all knew this was coming. Social media is, well, social. Anything we put out on social media stays there and is available for the world to view. That view can be by good guys or by bad guys. In his February 11th State of Homeland Security remarks, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh C. Johnson addressed DHS' renewed efforts to ensure that counterterrorism will remain the cornerstone of the DHS mission.

Toward this end, the FBI continues to do an excellent job of detecting, investigating, preventing, and prosecuting terrorist plots here in the homeland. The Federal Protective Service is enhancing its presence and security at various U.S. government buildings around the country. There is an intensified effort at intelligence sharing among DHS, FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Forces, fusion centers & local police chiefs. There is so much more being done to help keep America safe including enhancing and strengthening the Visa Waiver Program (known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)).

I know, I know. I'm getting to the social media thing. DHS is expanding their use of social media. It is currently used for over 33 different operational and investigative purposes within the Department. They have begun consulting social media of applicants for some immigration benefits. The Social Media Task Force within DHS has recommended expanding use of social media even further.

These enhancements can and should produce favorable results. There is a downside: the risk of bringing unwarranted scrutiny upon innocent individuals using social media who pose no risk or harm. Enhanced screening of asylum or refugee seekers (/Asylum-Applications.shtml) is likely to make an already lengthy and opaque process (18 to 24 months) even lengthier and less transparent.

Several bills have been introduced that would require DHS to screen social media of refugees and those visiting or immigrating to the United States. This scrutiny of literally billions of posts, tweets, etc. is our future. A recent pilot project involves screening social media accounts of applicants for the fiancé (K-1) visa (use by Ms. Malik, a San Bernardino shooter). In order to be useful, these programs will require many linguists and extraordinarily sophisticated algorithms that can distinguish or understand parody or sarcasm.

At Miley & Brown, P.C., we applaud any efforts to help keep America safe that are consistent with the constitution, the law, and good sense. You can visit us at There, you can also contact Congress to tell them you want immigration reform.

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