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  1. #1
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    [EN] DHS to collect social media data and search results on all immigrants

    Adolfo Flores
    September 28, 2017

    Federal officials are planning to collect social media information on all immigrants, including permanent residents and naturalized citizens, a move that has alarmed lawyers and privacy groups worried about how the information will be used.

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the new rule in the Federal Register last week, saying it wants to include "social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results" as part of people's immigration file. The new requirement takes effect Oct. 18.

    Adam Schwartz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for privacy and free expression, said the plan was disturbing.

    "We see this as part of a larger process of high-tech surveillance of immigrants and more and more people being subjected to social media screening," Schwartz told BuzzFeed News. "There's a growing trend at the Department of Homeland Security to be snooping on the social media of immigrants and foreigners and we think it's an invasion of privacy and deters freedom of speech."

    This would also affect all US citizens who communicate with immigrants, Schwartz said, who could self-censor out of fear that information they exchange with someone overseas could be misconstrued and used against them.

    DHS said the amendment posted last week is not a new policy. It was added in an effort to be transparent, to comply with existing regulations, and due to updates in the electronic immigration system the agency said.

    "DHS published this notice in the Federal Register on Sept. 18 to comply with the administrative requirements of the Privacy Act to help address these requirements, not launch a new policy initiative," the agency said. "DHS, in its law-enforcement and immigration-process capacity, has and continues to monitor publicly-available social media to protect the homeland."

    Faiza Patel, codirector of the Brennan Center’s liberty and national security program, said this is yet another fad, started by the Obama administration, fueled by the belief that social media is going to help the US stop an attack in the country.

    "It's very difficult to successfully use social media to determine what people are going or not going to do," Patel told BuzzFeed News. "When you look at all the different ways in which we use communication tools, and social media is pretty different, very truncated. People use emojis, they use short form, sometimes it’s difficult to know what something means."

    In February the Office of Inspector General published a report that found DHS pilot programs for using social media to screen applicants for immigration benefits lacked criteria to determine if it’s effective.

    Another concern, Patel said, is that the information would be used for ideological vetting by the US government who will be looking at people's political and personal views of people abroad and in the US.

    "The question is do we really want the government monitoring political views?" Patel said. "Social media may not be able to predict violence but it can certainly tell you a lot about a person's political and religious views."

    Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, said the expansion seems to originate from concerns about Tashfeen Malik, one of the San Bernardino shooters in late 2015.

    “This is another example of the government changing security protocols based on a previous incident that will impose an enormous cost and that is of dubious value for the future,” Nowrasteh said. “Social media has been used in immigration courts for years but there’s little evidence that it’s helped with visa vetting.”

    The Trump administration has had an interest in how immigration authorities use social media despite there being no evidence to show it was reliable, according to USCIS presidential transition records.

    “Yesterday at our briefing with the President-Elect’s Landing Team, one of the things they mentioned they’d be interested in seeing was guidance that we use regarding social media use and when/how we can use social media,” wrote a senior adviser in December.

    In documents provided to the transition team, the agency said no immigration benefits had been denied solely or primarily because of information uncovered through social media vetting.

    “In cases of benefit denial, the denial was based on information found outside of social media,” the document said.

    Three refugee pilot programs to screen social media found that although they were able to find refugees accounts the information did not produce clear links to national security concerns even for applicants who were found to pose a national security threat.

    César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, assistant professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, said DHS has a lot of discretion in how it treats information when making a decision on immigration benefits, even if its reliability is questionable.

    "The fact that information gleaned from Facebook or Instagram or other social media networks might not be reliable doesn't mean that it will preclude DHS from using it as a basis for excluding people from the United States," García Hernández said.

    Still, García Hernández said, it's important to remember that it's unusual for DHS to decide whether to allow someone into the US based on a single piece of information.

    "Folks might share a post on social media that seems ripe for government officials to use as the hook for a conversation that starts to resemble an ideological purity test," García Hernández said.

    There is also the possibility that someone may be hacked and will be held to task for a post or comment, García Hernández said.

    "Having government oversight with the potential for life-changing adverse consequences when it comes to social media use by prospective immigrants is a pretty direct affront to the longstanding promotion of free speech that's at the core of the US constitution," García Hernández said.

    https://www.buzzfeed.com/adolfoflore...r-social-media

  2. #2
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    Immigrants’ social media will be collected and kept forever by DHS

    DHS will officially update a social media policy to include collecting individuals’ “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results.”

    Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani
    Sep 29, 2017

    The Department of Homeland Security is expanding the social media data it collects on green-card holders, legal immigrants, and even naturalized citizens in the name of “protecting the homeland.” But many digital and surveillance experts say this type of data collection has no proven security benefits, and even the DHS’ own inspector general has concerns.

    As of next month, DHS will officially update a social media policy in effect since 2012, to include collecting individuals’ “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results.” As first reported by BuzzFeed, the information of an immigrant’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or other social media handles will be stored in the equivalent of a permanent record, known as an “Alien File,” or “A file.” Twitter has previously sued DHS over its inquiry for private user information.

    The announcement marks another incremental shift toward data gathering and surveillance of a population that civil rights groups argue are already overly targeted. And while this is public data, collecting and storing it could have chilling effects on the speech of U.S. citizens, too. (The matter is open to public comment until Oct. 18.)

    “There is a growing surveillance of immigrants in our country, and the social media monitoring is one part of it,” said Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney at digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, who said that U.S. citizens are also likely affected by this change, because they may have their own data “vacuumed” up if they interact online with anyone the policy touches. “The announcements that all of the social media monitoring is going into in an A-file where it’s being kept for an indefinite period of time and being used against immigrants in all kinds of situations in the future is very troubling.”

    Schwartz told VICE News that he’s particularly concerned about how DHS defines “search results,” an amorphous term that he says has no strict legal definition, and that the government has yet to prove why such measures are necessary. “The government has not done its job of justifying this massive invasion of privacy,” Schwartz said. It is unclear if this monitoring will be continuous, or what parameters are currently in place to prevent misuse or prejudicial bias. DHS would not comment when asked by VICE News.

    This kind of security policy was developed during the Obama administration, which originally sought social media information from visa waiver applicants, but it has been expanded under the Trump administration.

    “I think we’ve all become too inured to social media monitoring, by both companies and the government,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “But we should stop and think: It isn’t inevitable, and we shouldn’t allow such intrusions unless there is a valid reason – e.g., a person is suspected of a crime.”

    Last year, an inspector general report looking into various DHS pilot programs using social media to vet refugees concluded that they couldn’t determine if these online snooping policies are effective, and suggested that they not be applied for wider use. The DHS has not confirmed if this updated social media policy is an extension of any of those pilot programs, which were heavily redacted, or if those programs have been suspended.

    Not everyone is as concerned as Schwartz. Henry H. Willis, director of the RAND Homeland Security and Defense Center, said that in the past few years the amount of that type of information and the extent of people using it has “exploded,” and that we have to confront the idea that what we put online may be used in unwanted ways. “It’s a really important societal discussion to have about how we’re comfortable with that information being used,” said Willis, who added that he thinks the DHS public review period is a good step forward in attempting to clarify how they collect and store our information.

    In a statement to VICE News, DHS said this amendment isn’t a new policy: “In an effort to be transparent, to comply with existing regulations, and due to updates in the electronic immigration system, DHS decided to update its corresponding Privacy Act system of records.”

    However, there are some discrepancies. On the federal register, it clearly states that this policy extends to naturalized U.S. citizens. But a DHS spokesperson told VICE News via email that naturalized citizens are not subject to the social media info-gathering. Patel added: “As a naturalized citizen, I would certainly be concerned that DHS is holding onto my social media information in order to engage in some type of ongoing monitoring of what I say online.”

    https://news.vice.com/story/immigran...forever-by-dhs

  3. #3
    WHT-BR Top Member
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    Inside China's new censorship machine

    Cate Cadell, Pei Li
    September 29, 2017

    In a glass tower in a trendy part of China’s eastern city of Tianjin, hundreds of young men and women sit in front of computer screens, scouring the Internet for videos and messages that run counter to Communist Party doctrine.

    References to President Xi Jinping are scrutinized. As are funny nicknames for state leaders. And any mention of the Tiananmen protests in 1989 is immediately excised, as is sexual innuendo and violent content.

    Welcome to China’s new world of online censorship, where Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” meets Silicon Valley start-up.

    The young censors in the Tianjin office – or “auditors” – work for Beijing ByteDance Technology Co, better known as Toutiao, a popular and fast-growing news feed app.

    Surrounded by noodle restaurants and construction sites, the Wisdom Mountain Twin Towers, where the censors do their work, don’t exactly look Orwellian.

    Workers scan into bright offices using iPads. There are team building sessions typical of start-ups the world over. And the dress code is casual.

    “Our corporate culture is really good; every afternoon, for example, we get together for tea,” said one censor at the Toutiao office. A “horizontal” management structure means “ordinary employees can send messages about their issues straight to the CEO”.

    The censor added: “Overall the firm is seen as a cool place to work.”

    Toutiao’s Tianjin “auditing” center is at the heart of a vast Chinese censorship effort that is growing fast as official scrutiny of online content intensifies.

    According to figures released by the state media outlet Beijing News, China had roughly 2 million online content monitors in government departments and private companies in 2013. Academics estimate that number has since risen sharply.

    The government has been tightening control over videos, chat platforms and social media ahead of a Communist Party congress in October at which Xi is expected to bolster his leadership.

    Under Xi, the government has stepped up efforts to control discourse online as a growing array of web platforms give people new channels for self-expression.

    “They control a lot already but are really cleaning up for the Party congress,” said Lokman Tsui, a journalism professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He said the clampdown would last well beyond the congress and was having a widespread “chilling effect”.

    Companies like Toutiao are responding, hiring armies of workers to police videos, blogs and news articles available to its 120 million users across China.

    “We had about 30-40 employees two years ago; now we have nearly a thousand reviewing and auditing,” said the Toutiao censor, who, like other censors Reuters spoke to, asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic.

    A guard and receptionist at the building said the Tianjin office had expanded rapidly.

    “Everyone here is doing auditing work,” the receptionist said. “One year ago there was one floor, now we have ten.”

    Toutiao, which Reuters reported last month was raising at least $2 billion (£1.49 billion) in a new funding round that would value it at around $20 billion, said it had been expanding its teams rapidly, including in content “auditing.”

    “We have invested in developing sophisticated AI analytical tools and stringent content management processes to weed out low quality and fake content,” the company said in a statement, referring to artificial intelligence. The company declined to say how many censors it employed.

    LOVE NEWS, POLITICALLY SAVVY?

    Reuters spoke to four Toutiao censors and four other staff, who described the company’s censorship work, which they said spiked during periods of activity by the country’s political leaders.

    The censors rotate between day and night shifts; the peak time for censoring content is from 6pm to 9pm. Workers review videos, users’ posts and news, rooting out political criticism.

    They also target topics ranging from violence and drug addiction to extramarital affairs and religious cults, all of which were blacklisted in lengthy guidelines issued in June.

    “You can’t have anything that is too vulgar, too violent, too bloody, or anything that makes people feel disgusted,” said a second Toutiao censor based in Beijing, where the company has its headquarters. “There’s no set rules; more it’s the discretionary judgment of those on duty.”

    Some topics are particularly sensitive - anything to do with President Xi is automatically flagged by computers. Others are totally off limits. The “6.4 tank event” - a reference to the date of the crackdown on student protests in Tiananmen Square - and “various nicknames for state leaders” are automatically blocked, the censors said.

    Most of the censors said they were doing a public service.

    ”There is a lot of evil and pollution on the internet that people don’t see, and we are helping protect people, a third Toutiao censor said in Tianjin.

    But the efforts of the censors are often met with intense vitriol online by those whose posts are removed and others who decry the growing censorship in China.

    “Looking for my friends’ posts, I find they’ve all been erased,” one Weibo user posted under the handle “Jue Nian”. “I‘m afraid in a few years that history will have been rewritten so many times there’ll be no space for opposing points of view.”

    PARTY TIES

    Beijing has tightened rules this year for Internet companies to self-censor content on their platforms, and has fined web giants like Tencent Holdings Ltd, Baidu Inc and Weibo Corp for not doing enough to clean up content.

    In-house censors work separately from government censors, who operate within state media and local propaganda units and liaise with private companies.

    Weibo and Tencent, which operates the popular chat platform WeChat, did not respond to requests for comment.

    Baidu declined to comment, but pointed to a statement from August saying it was committed to dealing with malicious information on its platforms.

    Zhang Lijun, chairman of the online news and video portal V1 Group, said between 20-30 percent of his company’s labor costs went on content auditors - a necessary business expenditure.

    “Without doubt you need to maintain close ties with the ruling Party,” Zhang said. “Party building, setting up Party units properly, these can ensure your news goes out smoothly and keeps your business operations safe.”

    ARTIFICIAL AND HUMAN INTELLIGENCE

    The Beijing-based censor said Toutiao used artificial intelligence systems to censor content, though these don’t always understand the tone of posts.

    “We are training the AI. They are not as smart. Hopefully they will learn to handle all this eventually.”

    For now, though, real humans are still in demand.

    An advertisement Toutiao posted on Tianjin Foreign Studies University’s career page for students this month sought 100 fresh graduates to work in “content audit”, earning between 4,000-6,000 yuan (£447-£670) per month.

    Successful candidates need to “love news and current affairs” but also be “politically savvy” and “understand the laws and regulations governing Internet supervision”.

    One advertisement, for a “forum auditor” posted on the recruitment site Lagou.com in September, said the person would be responsible for working with direction from China’s powerful Internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China.

    The CAC did not respondent to requests for comment.

    Most postings are for young graduates, generally seen as more receptive to the job’s demands.

    “People who have just graduated from college are clean like a white piece of paper, and will accept our corporate culture more easily,” said one Tianjin censor.

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-c...-idUSKCN1C40LL

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