A new Department of Homeland Security report has come out which calls for the long-term surveillance of Sunni Muslim immigrants. This report seems to coincide with the actions that the DHS put into play back in October, wherein the activities of visa applicants, visa holders, legal permanent residents, and even naturalized citizens are being actively tracked. The spy rule involves watching and archiving the social media and internet searches of these individuals.
Spying is nothing new for the US government, as headlines have almost consistently broken these activities over the course of the last two decades. More notably, the disclosures that Ed Snowden and Julian Assange, among others, have cast a considerable amount of light on these issues.
The move appears as if it is just another salvo in the anti-Muslim chamber, much like the so called Muslim-ban that was produced early on during the Trump administration. However, this new proposal takes the matter much further in that it turns the prying eye of the federal government’s spy aparatus also in the direction of naturalized citizens, who have constitutional rights, notably, the right to be secure against unreasonable searches.
However, it is likely that the government considers mass surveillance of entire demographics, who have been through the US’s stringent vetting process and naturalization process, which takes many years to get through, and who have never done anything to warrant the government’s suspicion, something that is reasonable simply because, well, terrorism. If you weren’t born here, you’re suspected of being a potential terrorist. The Guardian observes:
Earlier 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 October 18, 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 National Security Letters 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.
But if the NSA is already spying on literally everything and everyone, except, perhaps, Hillary Clinton, why does the DHS feel the need to implement a new surveillance program? Why don’t they just ask the NSA for what they’ve collected on these persons? Why all the duplication? Isn’t the government trying to cut down on spending and the duplication of government programs and efforts? Or, does this trim down only affect programs and services that benefit the common population, while leaving programs and departments that expand the its own powers fully intact?
We can observe this in action where it trims down budgets for human resources programs, medical care programs, and others, while beefing up the military budget substantially and refusing to address other common problems because they are afraid they might have to invest in a solution. Solutions that serve common citizens rather than the interests of the deep state.
While the reason given is for spying on Sunni Muslims, in order to keep an eye on potential radicals, spying on US citizens with another excuse is another precedent for saying it’s okay to spy on you because we’re spying on the bad guys. The pool of individuals applying for a visa, or residency, or naturalization, however, happens to be much more extensive than the far more limited number of persons within that classification who happen to be of a Sunni Muslim persuasion. Without proper oversight and diligence, there’s no guarantee that the government won’t misuse these newly acquire surveillance powers, as we have already seen.