Foreign nationals at the Krome detention center, where those with criminal records and deportation orders are often held, in Miami in September 2015. In the latest Trump administration effort to spotlight crimes committed by immigrants in the United States illegally, the head of the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, April 26, 2017, launched a new office to help victims of crimes commited by immigrants. (Jose A. Iglesias/Miami Herald/TNS)

Laursen: Should Homeland Security prohibit free speech?

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The second part of a three part series on free speech examines how U.S. immigrants are treated. New Homeland Security policies allow U.S. government to search social-media accounts.

By Lucee Laursen

lucee-laursen@uiowa.edu

Every year, close to 1 million people immigrate to the United States, most of them seeking a freer and more prosperous future. On Sept. 18, the Department of Homeland Security published new rules in the Federal Register. This included 12 addenda that specified policies that Homeland Security will use. The new content released by Homeland Security was precariously vague, and it will adversely shift the way immigrants or potential immigrants are able to use social media.

Addendum 5 states in part that it will “expand the categories of records to include the following: social-media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results.” This means that Homeland Security has the ability to investigate immigrants and potential immigrants’ social-media and
Internet history.

Addendum 11 states, “Update record source categories to include 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.” This expands the already expansive reach of Homeland Security. Information-sharing agreements include all of the information that companies such as Google and Facebook have learned about individuals.

This is a clear invasion of privacy. Many people argue we are protecting our homeland by investigating those who want to enter. People are not wrong for thinking in this way. But if we believe we should do everything in our power to protect our country, where do we draw the line?

If we are doing this in an attempt to protect our homeland, should every citizen of the United States be subjected to these investigations? Should the government have the ability to hold files on every citizen and monitor us via our social-media accounts without any kind of warrant?

Most people and our Constitution would say, “Of course not.” But think about it, citizens threaten our homeland all the time. School shootings, terrorist attacks, robberies — the list goes on.

If the government can prove that these invasive investigations of immigrants can protect our country’s security, how long will it be until the government tries to persuade us that these same types of investigations could be even more effective if we were all subjected to them? Of course, this would take policy changes before something like this could be put into effect. But this kind of reasoning is not completely out of question.

For now, we must focus on the problem at hand. On Oct. 18, these new additions will be added to the already lengthy immigration-vetting process. It is unclear how exactly this will affect U.S. immigration. Adam Schwartz, a privacy and free-expression advocate with Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “Many immigrants will be chilled and deterred from participating in speech and social media because they fear that the government is going to misunderstand what they’re saying.”

It is disappointing to me that the very place people go to seek freedom of speech is actively deterring them from doing so. The United States, since its founding, has stood for freedom of expression. Now, we are ripping this away from those who desperately want it. This invasion of privacy and trust is a complete abomination and needs to be changed.

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