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Shahshahani writes: "Do I now, every time I want to post to social media, have to censor myself with the full knowledge that Big Brother is watching?"

'We immigrants should not self-censor or hold back on freely expressing our political opinions.' (photo: Cultura RM Exclusive/yellowdog/Getty Images/Cultura Exclusive)
'We immigrants should not self-censor or hold back on freely expressing our political opinions.' (photo: Cultura RM Exclusive/yellowdog/Getty Images/Cultura Exclusive)

Government Spying on Immigrants in America Is Now Fair Game. What Next?

By Azadeh Shahshahani, Guardian UK

12 February 18

Internet activity of all visa applicants, visa holders and green card holders is now tracked. And Sunni Muslim immigrants could face long-term surveillance

arlier last week, the existence of a draft Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report came to light, which calls for long-term surveillance of Sunni Muslim immigrants.

Internal documents obtained from the FBI and DHS last year also showed how the agencies are surveilling the Movement for Black Lives, bringing into mind tactics of Cointelpro, an FBI program which secretly and illegally conducted surveillance on the civil rights movement in order to disrupt Americans’ ability to organize politically.

But these are not the only types of surveillance this administration is engaged in.

On 18 October, DHS implemented a new rule to track the internet activity of all visa applicants, visa holders and legal permanent residents. The rule would also apply to naturalized US citizens.

The new rule would track and store social media account information and other highly sensitive data as part of individuals’ immigration files. The policy would allow DHS to collect and track immigrants’ social media accounts handles as well as aliases, and search results from both public search engines as well as commercial databases. This kind of mass surveillance overwhelmingly impacts the dignity and fairness extended to American immigrants, more so than other Americans.

As an outspoken naturalized citizen who routinely takes public positions on government policy, I find the rule highly problematic. To me, it seems like it was designed with the specific purpose of hampering our freedom of speech, in line with the Trump administration’s other chilling tactics of attacks on the press and crackdowns on protesters who do not fall in line with the policies of this administration.

Do I now, every time I want to post to social media, have to censor myself with the full knowledge that Big Brother is watching?

This rule is in clear violation of the constitution, specifically running afoul of the first amendment, negatively impacting our free speech and free association rights. This means that as immigrants, we are forced to have second thoughts before freely posting our political views to social media, especially if they are in opposition to government policies. In a country that values its democracy, how can we allow for programs like this to exist?

This rule also violates the Equal Protection Clause of the fifth amendment as it targets naturalized citizens specifically, not the native-born or those with a US citizen parent. We do not have two-tiered citizenship in this country. Naturalized citizens are to be afforded all the rights and privileges of citizenship, aside from becoming US president. This rule treats naturalized citizens as a potential threat and is clearly meant to force us to limit our political activities and expressions.

This is not the first time that immigrants, Muslim Americans and communities of color have been subjected to government spying. Surveillance of our communities has been going on for a very long time, impacting us more than other Americans.

After 9/11, much of the surveillance became focused on Muslim communities. The Patriot Act made it easier for the US government to obtain personal information without checks and balances. FBI agents can obtain personal information such as phone records, computer records, credit history and banking information on the basis of National Security Letters (NSLs), which are similar to subpoenas.

The NSLs do not require judicial approval; therefore no check is in place on how the FBI gathers and uses personal information. From 2003 until 2005, the FBI issued 143,074 NSLs, from which there were only 53 reported criminal referrals to prosecutors. The act also allows for “Sneak and Peek” searches in peoples’ homes or offices.

These broad surveillance tactics have a direct impact on our communities. Multiple social justice organizations have expressed concern that the government could be using the Patriot Act to target their members for investigation, and have stated that this has inhibited the religious and political expression of their members.

The attorney general guidelines in 2008 also authorized “domain management assessments” which allow the FBI to map out communities across America by race and ethnicity, using crude stereotypes to hypothesize about the crimes they are believed to be likely to commit.

This covert surveillance, now culminating in overt spying on immigrants, is designed as a tactic to control and fracture dissent. It is meant to keep immigrants’ political activity in check and to keep us from feeling like full members of society. The message this new rule sends to American immigrants, and specifically naturalized citizens, is that we are not entitled to the full exercise of our first amendment rights as native-born citizens are. The government will be watching us closely and if it determines that we have crossed the line in any way, it will find some way of coming after us.

For many of us, this is eerily reminiscent of what we were facing in countries where we immigrated from: systematic surveillance, retribution for political speech, self-censorship. These tactics of repression are what we may have thought we left behind when we arrived in the US.

In response to such egregious spying and regulations meant to chill our freedom of speech, we immigrants should not self-censor or hold back on freely expressing our political opinions. If we were to do that, we would hand this administration which is intent on violating our rights a clear victory, dealing a huge blow to the first amendment and other constitutional protections. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+3 # Krackonis 2018-02-12 11:25
So a "free" country is kinda a misnomer eh?
0 # Dave_s Not Here 2018-02-15 05:02
"Do I now, every time I want to post to social media, have to censor myself with the full knowledge that Big Brother is watching?"

Yes. You should have always been. Don't ever post something that could come back and bite you - it probably will. The watchers are mostly automated these days.

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