DHS to Collect U.S. Immigrants’ Social Media Data

A little-noticed regulation published in the Federal Register last week empowers the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to compile information from the social media accounts of U.S. immigrants, including both current green card holders and naturalized citizens.

According to the notice, DHS intends to amend its system of record-keeping to include social media data from immigrants, whether residing in the U.S. or passing through a point of entry, for three purposes: “the adjudication of benefits, investigation of immigration violations, and enforcement actions.” The new regulation is slated to take effect on Oct. 18.

What social media information will be accessed?

A broad array of personal information is subject to the new regulation, including the “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results” of U.S. immigrants.

All of the social media data DHS will collect will be sourced from “publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers, and information obtained and disclosed pursuant to information-sharing agreements,” the regulation states.

The information compiled will ultimately become part of individuals’ immigration files.


Notifying the public of its decision to include social media data in immigration record-keeping is the latest in a series of federal government initiatives that have raised concerns among various groups about privacy rights.

Earlier this year, as we informed our readers, DHS floated adopting intrusive measures at U.S. ports of entry and during visa applications. Among the proposals under consideration was requiring immigrants to provide to border agents their cell phones and passwords for social media accounts like Facebook and WeChat.

Later, in June, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) implemented a long, probing questionnaire at consular posts worldwide for use in visa applications. The form solicits a range of detailed personal information from applicants, including the past five years of user names of all social media websites and applications for which visa applicants have held public accounts.

These developments occurred in spite of the release of a DHS report in February that could not conclude that a U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) trial program of including social media data in immigrant-screening processes had accomplished its goal of bolstering security or otherwise improving immigrant vetting.

Our Thoughts

To be sure, our firm shares the concerns voiced by our colleagues in immigration and privacy law. We also understand the importance of preparing for the implementation of new government requirements. Since the new regulation is slated to take effect in less than a month, we offer the following general, non-legal recommendations to our readers:

For individuals with pending travel plans to the U.S.:

  • Try to travel with the least amount of data possible.
  • Encrypt your personal devices, and additionally consider adding extra layers of security (for instance, two- or multi-factor authentication).
  • If you’re a green card holder and therefore have already registered fingerprints in U.S. databases, get rid of any capability to use touch ID to unlock your devices.
  • If you feel your rights are violated, do not hesitate to request a lawyer. If possible, contact one before being asked to relocate from the main lines at ports of entry, with the goal of having legal assistance on standby before potentially being detained.

And for individuals who have publicly accessible social media profiles:

  • Consider updating your profile to a “private” mode so that it is concealed from the public.
  • While we would never advocate infringing on one’s own free speech rights, whether we’re speaking as experienced immigration attorneys or as citizens of this country, it is nonetheless advisable to be prudent with the sort of information you post on social media. (This is a general rule many would benefit from following in our culture of oversharing.)

In the interim, Zhang & Associates will continue to monitor the rollout of this regulation.

This is a developing story, and as more information becomes available, updates will be published on our news section.

Former U.S. Consular officer, Attorney Sechyi Laiu joined Zhang & Associates, P.C. on June 26, 2017

At Zhang & Associates, P.C., Attorney Laiu specializes on Consular Processing cases and business development. Attorney Laiu also focuses on TN visas, E visas, CBP administrative proceedings (monetary confiscation, deferred inspection), and overseas financial compliance.

Prior to joining Zhang & Associates, P.C., Attorney Laiu worked for the U.S. Department of State as a Chinese and Portuguese speaking diplomat. As a consular-coned officer who served in Vancouver (Canada), Shenyang (P.R. China), and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Attorney Laiu processed over 30,000 visa cases and worked in every section of Consular Affairs overseas (Fraud Prevention Unit, Immigrant Visas, Non-Immigrant Visas, and American Citizen Services).

He will use his experience and expertise to deliver the highest quality of service to our clients.

Founded in 1996, Zhang & Associates, P.C. offers legal services to clients worldwide in all aspects of U.S immigration law. We have successfully handled over ten thousand immigration cases.

At Zhang & Associates, P.C., our attorneys and supporting professionals are committed to providing high-quality immigration and non-immigration visa services. We specialize in NIW, EB-1, EB-5, PERM, I-485 I-130, H-1B, O, L and J cases. In the past twenty-one years, we have successfully helped over ten thousand clients get green cards. If you plan to apply for a green card, please send your CV to Attorney Jerry Zhang (info@hooyou.com) for a free evaluation.

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