Social media data and immigration - New regulation for the collection of information

Image of a smartphone with social apps U.S. Authorities collect Social Media information from Green Card owners

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will henceforth collect and store social media data of all persons with an immigration status, i.e. Green Card holders and naturalized persons. 

This new regulation is based on a decree for the extension of the 1974 Privacy Act, which specifies which data can be collected and stored exactly in the so-called Alien File (A-file). This decree is scheduled to take effect on October 18, 2017. 

What are Alien Files?

For each person with an immigration status, the U.S. authorities assign a so-called Alien Number (A-Number), which is assigned to the Alien File (A-File). The Alien File stores all relevant biographical data, photos, travel activities, visa applications, and all previous activities with U.S. authorities of the respective person. These Alien Files have existed since 1944, with most of the data being deposited with the U.S. immigration authority USCIS. Other U.S. authorities also have access to the A-Files.

Who is affected by this change? 

This change mainly affects Green Card holders and naturalized persons who already have an A-File. However, the social media data can also be gathered and stored from persons who have submitted a Green Card application or have been naturalized after October 18, 2017.

For example, U.S. officials can access public profiles on Facebook or other social media platforms that contain or reveal private details of the people. This, of course, does not mean that the authorities are given general access to these platforms (for example, in the case of non-public profiles).

Although no A-Files are created for non-immigrants (e.g. people with L- or E-Visa) and they are not directly affected, it is still possible that information is collected and stored indirectly if these people are in contact with Green Card holders or naturalized citizens on social media platforms.

The optional query about social media data on the ESTA form (under the visa-free entry) and on the DS-5535 form (in the non-immigrant visa application procedure) has been introduced some months ago.


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