September 29, 2017

DHS Issues Notice of Proposed Changes to Alien File, Index, and National File Tracking System of Records

On September 18, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published notice of proposed changes to the “DHS/USCIS-ICE-CBP-001 Alien File, Index, and National File Tracking System of Records.” The DHS System of Records contains information on all individuals who pass through the immigration process in the United States.

The System of Records sets forth that immigrants’ information may be contained in multiple formats and databases, such as Alien files “A-files,” in order to administer benefits and enforce provisions under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and related statutes. The DHS Notice is proposing to change what information may be collected and retained in these files.

One of biggest changes is the addition of social media handles and aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results to the list of records retained in an individual’s A-file. Publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data aggregators, inquiries or complaints from the general public, and other sources have also been added as sources for information contained in DHS records.

Information may be collected from a wide-range of individuals, including lawful permanent residents; naturalized U.S. citizens; individuals when petitioning for benefits under the INA on behalf of another individual; individuals who receive benefits under the INA; individuals who are subject to the enforcement provisions of the INA; and others.

It is still unclear how DHS will collect this information, specifically whether officials will be collecting and retaining social media information for U.S. citizens who naturalized 20 years or more ago or whether only information collected moving forward will be retained. The language in the notice is both broad and vague, giving DHS wide latitude in implementing this policy. Advocacy groups have raised concerns that the new policy may have a chilling effect on free speech.

The Notice is subject to a 30-day public comment period. Members of the public may submit comments until October 18, 2017, by clicking on the green “Submit a Formal Comment” button at the following website.

While the notice provides the effective date as October 18, 2017, it is unclear if DHS will wait until this date to begin collecting social media information. DHS issued a statement to Buzzfeed News stating that “DHS published this notice in the Federal Register on Sept. 18 to comply with the administrative requirements of the Privacy Act to help address these requirements, not launch a new policy initiative. DHS, in its law-enforcement and immigration process capacity, has and continues to monitor publicly-available social media to protect the homeland.”

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