On September 18, changes were made to the 1974 Privacy Act wording in the Federal Register, and you have until October 18, 2017 to comment. It affects everyone who went through the proper procedures to come to the United States to work and make a home.
The Hill reports that the government will start collecting the social media interactions of immigrants legally in the U.S. — including permanent residents and even naturalized citizens. This assessment seems in part based off a Buzzfeed news item discussing the rule changes as invasive, and requiring resources to sift through social media accounts with little evidence that this yields any actionable information.
This is of interest to me because I am a permanent resident and intend to become a United States citizen. So I had a look at the actual Federal Register — a thing I had to do frequently to help surgeons comply with Medicare rules in a previous life.
I am not an attorney, so I may not understand the wording of this part of the Federal Register entirely, but the social media review appears to be triggered in most instances by some sort of unusual incident. I came away being less worried than some of you might think I should be. If you’d like to check it out yourself, you’ll have to scroll down nearly half your screen to get to the social media bit.
The changes are thought to be precipitated by events such as the 2015 San Bernadino terrorist attack involving Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik. These are people who purposefully moved to the United States, and appear to have been indoctrinated by radical Islamic organizations in North America. They even met online.
So it is understandable why the Department of Homeland Security may want to keep tabs on the social media handles of those who are not natural born citizens. If something happens, they have another jumping off point for an investigation. Police already look at the publicly posted social media items of Americans, natural born or naturalized, during the course of their work — though some methods of surveillance have troubled the American Civil Liberties Union.
Where this Privacy Act change might seem dodgy on the civil rights end is the request to provide social media handles and the ability to obtain search results. Weirdly, none of the above sources so far has noted the very top line of page 43,560, which lists “medical information” as a bullet point. That seems far more invasive than what my Instagram posts of my cat reveal about my lifestyle.
Heck, I’ve tweeted about my search results because I’m a novelist. When I had to figure out body decomposition rates, I wanted to let the NSA know this was for a story. You know, to save them some trouble.
But are my rights being curtailed? The one thing drummed into me upon moving to America was that I needed to have my green card on me at all times (I do), and that I am never going to have the full rights afforded to natural born citizens. That’s just a thing we all know. We can’t be president, and as of now, I cannot vote or serve on a jury (which sounds like a good time to someone who isn’t permitted to do it).
Our family traded those things for the opportunity to live in America. That’s how fantastic America seems to people from places where one is imprisoned for criticizing the government. That actually happened to my paternal grandfather, so it should come as no shock that my father is the one who initiated the move to the States after trying another Western nation first. Great Britain just wasn’t free enough, so we ended up here.
I’m going to keep an eye on this, but right now, DHS has my fingerprints, every address I’ve ever lived, and they know the horrific failures of my every relationship, as I’ve never had to inform them I got married. Am I worried that they might see a Facebook post about how much I hate traffic? Not really, unless it wasn’t funny. Posting something that mundane without humor would be a travesty.
That being said, I will be very careful about how I word my hatred of said traffic from now on, even though I know I’m probably not the key demographic Of Interest. You never know these days.