This is not good.…
The Department of Homeland Security will collect social media handles and
aliases, associated identifiable information and search results in the department's immigrant files. A few reasons that is terrible:
Dummy accounts problem & ‘false negatives:’ Presumably, any ‘bad actor’ would simply provide DHS with dummy social media accounts, meant to portray them as unremarkable people, while using other social media accounts for activities of actual
interest to law enforcement.
If the goal is to identify the ‘worst actors,’ such an approach is likely to fail worst where it is most important, because the ‘worst actors’ will be the
most likely to create and provide dummy accounts to DHS.
Non-malicious mismatched information: users may use pseudonyms, fake dates of birth, or engage in other anonymizing practices when it comes to presenting private information on publicly available social media accounts.
These discrepancies may not be
indicative of malicious intent, merely a desire for privacy and protection, which is particularly salient for vulnerable populations.
Flagging discrepancies between purposefully-anonymized data and other identifying information provided by immigrants or potential immigrants risks ascribing malicious intent where none exists.
Context Collapse and ‘false positives:’ Social media posts are created by users in a particular context, for particular assumed audiences. DHS or third parties analyzing posts out of context risks ascribing harmful intent and malicious activity, where none
exists ‘In Real Life.’
For example, a user may post expressions of anger that do not
reflect the type of actions they would actually perform. The privacy expectations of users on social media don’t include potential impact on their status as immigrants. See work by @zephoria
@zephoria Automated text analysis is very poor at relevant tasks: social media accounts serve multiple purposes, not necessarily reflecting the account holder’s political leanings; reliance on automation may not be able to distinguish fantasy, sarcasm, or other forms of self-expression.
@zephoria For example, recent studies show that ‘Sentiment Analysis’ tools fail terribly at identifying sarcasm, humor, or other forms of critique; these tools are also biased (for example against AAVE)
@zephoria Social media users often repost content that is not their own, and that they may disagree with. One of the key affordances of most social media platforms is the ability to repost or share content created by other users.
@zephoria This is often done in order to debate
or criticize the reposted content. However, automated monitoring and flagging systems often fail to recognize this. DHS will likely end up flagging immigrant social media users based on content they repost, and may well disagree with.
@zephoria Statements of intent to act, and even claims of action, posted via social media are not necessarily real world actions. The vast distance between stated intent to act and behavior is a well-known problem in health and behavioral sciences.
@zephoria For example, people often state that they are going to quit smoking, but continue to smoke. DHS will likely flag immigrant social media users for posts about actions that they may not
have taken.
@zephoria Scope is overbroad: The scope of the proposed data collection activity is too large to be effective in eradicating violent extremism.
@zephoria Satirical accounts: Fake accounts created in satire against particular people may also be caught in the net of social media surveillance.
@zephoria Multiple account users: Social media accounts are often shared by multiple individuals, (e.g. shared moderation or public-facing social media accounts), so holding individuals accountable for posts, and potentially affecting their immigration status, may be unfair.
@zephoria Access to this data may violate international law and human rights principles: who will have access to this data and under what
circumstances? (See the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance).
@zephoria Treatment of minors: will social media accounts held by minors be subject to the same procedures for gathering and analyzing data? Will parental consent be sought? If yes, how will this affect data collection? If no, what is the justification?
@zephoria Some questions for reporters:
○ Who will have access to this data?
○ How long will the data be retained?
○ What security measures will be in place to ensure confidentiality and safety of the collected data?
@zephoria ○ Will private accounts and content be included? If DHS gathers data from locked accounts, it is a serious breach of privacy; if it does not, then it
is not a very effective method for identifying persons of interest.
@zephoria ○ What will happen to collected data if a given immigrant’s status changes? For example, if an individual decides not to immigrate and returns to their country of origin, will their collected data be destroyed?
@zephoria Potential misuse of social media information by DHS agents and employees: Most people’s social media accounts are used to share highly personal information. This may unintentionally expose very vulnerable people to harms ...
@zephoria ... harms from DHS employees (& 3rd parties) who may use their social media posts to threaten, bribe, or otherwise harm them. This is of particular concern for the potential for sexual harassment, stalking, and blackmail against women, gender nonconforming people, and femmes.
@zephoria Precedent of differential treatment: This sets a dangerous legal precedent for differential surveillance and ownership of an individual’s data based on country of birth.
@zephoria These objections were compiled together with @faeriedevilish last year when DHS publicly proposed gathering social media accounts of immigrants.
@zephoria @faeriedevilish Hopefully this will be challenged very soon in the courts. cc @ACLU @onekade
The comment we filed on the notice:…

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