Today, ALA filed comments to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Privacy Office expressing our concerns about the Department’s plans to monitor and collect social media information on all immigrants to the United States.
By way of background, DHS published a new rule under the Privacy Act of 1974 in the Federal Register in late September, detailing how it intends to expand the information it collects when determining a person’s immigration status to include “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results.” As well as immigrants to the United States, the new requirement would impact anyone who communicates with immigrants via social media, as their conversations could be reviewed by immigration officials.
This proposal is in direct opposition to a resolution passed in 2007 about immigrants’ rights and the Library Bill of Rights. As reiterated in our joint comments, existing ALA policies affirm that confidentiality is crucial to freedom of inquiry and that rights of privacy are necessary for intellectual freedom and fundamental to the ethics and practice of librarianship. Protecting user privacy and confidentiality has long been an integral part of the mission of libraries (since 1939!) and ALA strongly supports the protection of each person’s right to privacy and civil liberties, regardless of that individual’s nationality, residency or status.
As information professionals, we are acutely aware that the collection, retention, use, and sharing of social media information can provide a wealth of data that paints a detailed portrait of an individual. If carried out as proposed, DHS’s proposal will chill immigrants’ freedom of expression and freedom of association and plausibly threaten their right to privacy in their intellectual activities and reading habits.
We urge the DHS Privacy Office to fully review and respond to the comments they received about this proposal.