Federal Register Notice
On Sept. 18, USCIS published a Federal Register Notice, which was an amendment to an existing System of Records Notice (SORN), a Privacy Act requirement. The SORN did not announce a new data collection program. Rather, it articulated the fact that, in cases where USCIS obtains social media information during the course of adjudicating immigration benefit applications, we may store that information in an individual’s Alien file (A-file.)
USCIS is not currently conducting proactive monitoring of social media. Any search of open source or social media information is in connection with an individual’s specific request for immigration benefits and is part of our adjudication process.
System of Records Notice Amendment
This new SORN does not require naturalized citizens to provide information related to their use of social media. The SORN simply indicates that social media information may be part of the background check process for certain immigration benefit requests. USCIS only collects social media information that is reasonably related to matters under our consideration.
In cases where we have identified social media information potentially relevant to benefit adjudication (such as affiliation with a known terrorist organization or criminal gang), we would record the relevant information, including the social media handle that posted the information, in the A-file as part of the official record, as well as in other relevant USCIS systems.
Publicly Available Information
This SORN only addresses the viewing of publicly-available information when conducting social media checks. This is information that is available to any other user of the Internet.
This policy permits specifically trained USCIS officers to access publicly available social media as an aid in determining whether an individual is eligible for an immigration benefit. If USCIS finds information that is relevant and affects the adjudication of an application, that information could be provided to the applicant during an interview or in a request for evidence.
Because it could affect the adjudication process, the information would need to be stored in the individual’s A-file, as well as in other relevant USCIS systems.
Information Related to Fraud, Criminal Conviction or National Security Threats
If USCIS comes across publicly-available information that an applicant appears to be committing fraud in their filing, is ineligible for a benefit based on prior criminal convictions, or poses a national security threat, USCIS would store that information in the individual’s A-file, as well as in other relevant USCIS systems.
If the information could lead to a denial of an immigration benefit, and if it is information the applicant may be unaware of, the information collected would be provided to the applicant in a Notice of Intent to Deny, an interview, or via similar agency processes. The applicant would then have an opportunity to review and respond.