DHS sued over social media surveillance of visa holders

Naturalization attempts may have been denied based on posts from applicants' social media connections.
(Getty Images)

The Department of Homeland Security is being sued for failing to release information on how it monitors social media and uses that data to deny immigration and naturalization attempts, the Center for Democracy & Technology announced Tuesday.

CDT filed the suit last week after Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services both ignored its Freedom of Information Act requests for more than a year.

The requests followed reports that border officials denied entry to visa holders based on social media posts from their connections, and the suit follows one from the American Civil Liberties Union in December over DHS, CBP, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement‘s secret purchase of phone location data to track people.

“The public deserves to know how the government scrutinizes social media data when deciding who can enter or stay in the country,” said Avery Gardiner, general counsel for CDT, in the announcement. “Government surveillance has necessary limits, particularly constitutional ones.”


DHS did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

CDT intends to pursue its case against the Trump administration, despite the transition to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration occurring Wednesday.

The nonpartisan nonprofit remains open to negotiating a “reasonable” schedule for fulfilling its FOIA requests, Mana Azarmi, policy counsel at CDT, said in a statement.

“Government monitoring of social media opens the door to discriminatory pretextual denials of benefits and may have the effect of chilling Americans’ speech,” said David Gossett, an attorney with Davis Wright Tremaine representing CDT. “We are holding the government to its FOIA obligations in order to better understand these constitutionally dubious practices.”

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