The Department of Immigration & Customs Enforcement is taking new steps in its plans for monitoring the social media accounts of applicants and holders of U.S. visas. At a tech industry conference last Thursday in Arlington, Virginia, ICE officials explained to software providers what they are seeking: algorithms that would assess potential threats posed by visa holders in the United States and conduct ongoing social media surveillance of those deemed high risk.
The comments provide the first clear blueprint for ICE’s proposed augmentation of its visa-vetting program. The initial announcement of the plans this summer, viewed as part of President Donald Trump’s calls for the “extreme vetting” of visitors from Muslim countries, stoked a public outcry from immigrants and civil liberties advocates. They argued that such a plan would discriminate against Muslim visitors and potentially place a huge number of individuals under watch.
ICE officials subsequently changed the program’s name to “Visa Lifecycle Vetting.” But, according to the ICE presentation, the goal of the initiative — enhanced monitoring of visa holders using social media — remains the same.
Speaking to a room of information-technology contractors, hosted by the Government Technology & Services Coalition, Louis Rodi, deputy assistant director of ICE Homeland Security Investigations’ National Security Program, said the agency needs a tool equipped with “risk-based matrices” to predict dangers posed by visa holders, with the social media of those considered a threat under continuous surveillance throughout their stay in the U.S.
“We have millions and millions and millions of people coming every year, and subsequently departing, so we have to be smart about it,” said Rodi to a room of representatives from companies like Microsoft, Accenture, Deloitte and Motorola Solutions. “And I’m sure there are tools out there that can help.”
For this targeted group of visa holders, ICE’s online monitoring of public social media posts would be large-scale and non-stop. “Everything we’re dealing with is in bulk, so we need batch-vetting capabilities for any of the processes that we have,” said Rodi. Alysa Erichs, ICE Homeland Security Investigations’ acting deputy association director for information management, told attendees that ICE hopes to get automated notifications about any visa holders’ social media activity that could “ping us as a potential alert.”
I for one cannot think of anyway this could be abused. And certainly not by the wonderful people of ICE, who certainly wouldn’t engage in large-scale ethnic cleansing or anything like that.