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DHS Using Social Sites to Find Immigration Fraud

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By Jason Beahm on October 21, 2010 7:11 AM

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they aren't actually after you.
- Joseph Heller - Catch 22

The Electronic Frontier Foundation received documents as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit regarding government surveillance on social networks. It turns out that the government has been tracking people using social sites to investigate matters including immigration fraud.

According to the documents, the government has used surveillance of social networks to investigate citizenship petitions. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security created a "Social Networking Monitoring Center" to analyze online communication during President Obama's inauguration.

Monitoring online conversations around the time of Obama's inauguration isn't that shocking, but using social networking to investigate citizenship is surprising. Apparently, the government is using sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to investigate fraudulent marriages obtained for the purpose of obtaining U.S. citizenship or residency.

Interestingly, the EFF found this gem of a quote within the documents:

"Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuels a need to have a large group of 'friends' link to their pages and many of these people accept cyber-friends that they don't even know. This provides an excellent vantage point for [the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security] to observe the daily life of beneficiaries and petitioners who are suspected of fraudulent activities."

Hello! Yikes!

This means that immigration officials are attempting to friend citizenship petitioners online in the hope that the user will reveal evidence of immigration fraud, such as evidence that the marriage is not legitimate.

On the one hand, some might say that the government is simply doing its job and using available technology, including social sites, to catch those gaming the immigration system. On the other hand, there are a certain air of creepiness about the whole thing. It also raises a number of questions which the EFF noted in their article:

Are assumptions that social networking users are narcissistic valid?

What level of suspicion is required in order for an agent to try to friend you?

Must DHS agents reveal their government affiliation?

Regardless of the answers, many people are going to be quite shocked to find out about these government programs. Whether they have been worthwhile and whether they will continue are yet to be determined.

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