Trump administration sued for info on plan to collect immigrants’ social media data, ‘extreme vetting’

The Trump administration, which last week published new rules that the Department of Homeland Security will collect social media data of all immigrants effective Oct. 18, on Wednesday was hit with a lawsuit seeking more information about that and its “extreme vetting” plan.

The plaintiff is the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which had filed a Freedom of Information Act request over the summer. It says the Trump administration has failed to provide enough information about its plans regarding vetting of U.S. visitors and immigrants.

“People around the world use social media to express their beliefs, associate with others who share their beliefs, and debate those who don’t,” said Carrie DeCell, staff attorney at the Knight Institute, in a press release. “The government’s new vetting policies threaten to chill free speech to the detriment of U.S. residents and non-residents alike.”

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DHS told BuzzFeed last week that the updated rules about collecting social media information merely seek to clarify a policy that has already been announced. “DHS, in its law-enforcement and immigration-process capacity, has and continues to monitor publicly-available social media to protect the homeland,” the agency reportedly said.

According to the updated rules, Homeland Security’s collection of social media information will apply to all immigrants, including lawful permanent residents and naturalized U.S. citizens. The information collected will include social media handles and aliases, associated identifiable information and search results.

The Knight Institute’s lawsuit says it seeks “information about any new vetting policies, and about the government’s understanding of its authority to base immigration decisions on individuals’ speech, beliefs, or associations.”

The concern about infringing on people’s free-speech rights is understandable. For example, Donald Trump’s Justice Department is currently demanding the private Facebook account information of people associated with protests during Trump’s inauguration. The ACLU is seeking to block the DOJ from searching the private accounts of three Facebook users, saying the warrant is too broad and would allow federal investigators to see information of Facebook users who have nothing to do with the investigation.

The Knight Institute said in a statement Wednesday that “thus far, the government has released only a single document—one already posted on a public website—in response to the Knight Institute’s FOIA request.” That document is a DHS memo, dated Feb. 20, with the following subject: “Implementing the President’s Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Policies.”

The institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending free speech in the digital age, has another lawsuit pending against President Trump. In July, it sued him for blocking people on Twitter, his social network of choice.

 

Photos: Twitter and Facebook logos. (AP)

 

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