Refugees and social media in a surveillance state

The New York Times reports: The Department of Homeland Security, at the urging of Congress, is building tools to more aggressively examine the social media accounts of all visa applicants and those seeking asylum or refugee status in the United States for possible ties to terrorist organizations.

Posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media can reveal a wealth of information that can be used to identify potential terrorists, but experts say the department faces an array of technical, logistical and language barriers in trying to analyze the millions of records generated every day.

After the December mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., “we saw that our efforts are not as robust as they need to be,” Francis X. Taylor, under secretary for intelligence and analysis, the top counterterrorism official at the Department of Homeland Security, said at a congressional hearing.

Travel industry officials and immigration rights advocates say the new policy carries the peril of making someone who posts legitimate criticism of American foreign policy or who has friends or followers who express sympathy toward terrorists subject to unwarranted scrutiny.

Their concerns underline the mounting challenge for law enforcement agencies that are trying to keep pace with the speed and scope of technology as terrorists turn to social media as an essential tool.

“We haven’t seen the policy, but it is a concern considering the already lengthy and opaque process that refugees have to go through,” said Melanie Nezer of HIAS, a group that helps resettle refugees in the United States. “It could keep out people who are not a threat.” Several trade organizations in the travel industry said they had similar concerns.

The attackers in San Bernardino, Tashfeen Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, had exchanged private online messages discussing their commitment to jihad and martyrdom, law enforcement officials said. But they did not post any public messages about their plans on Facebook or other social media platforms, officials said. [Continue reading…]

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