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Department of Homeland Security Steps up Social Media Monitoring of Foreign Visitors

By Peek & Toland on June 30, 2017

The new administration’s so-called “extreme vetting” policies are inherent in the recent travel bans. They extend to stepping up the monitoring of social media platforms of foreign visitors to the United States.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed it is continuing to expand the scrutiny of the social media presence of travelers from abroad and foreign nationals who are applying for U.S. immigration benefits.

John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security said the Trump Administration’s “extreme vetting” policies could include requesting foreign visitors to provide details of their use of social media and other websites.

The move would represent a more intrusive approach to vetting. Currently, the DHS asks some foreign visitors to the United States to voluntary disclose this information. Last summer, the federal government announced foreign visitors would be asked to disclose their social media accounts, although the request was not compulsory.

Social media monitoring of immigrants is taking place

More social media monitoring is taking place of immigrants

Since December, visitors entering the United States from visa waiver program (VWP) countries have been asked about their social media use. The request includes asking them to name platforms and usernames via an optional question on the Electronic System for Travel Authorization form.

The U.S. Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) use publicly available information from social media information in fraud investigations and other adjudications.

However, Kelly upped the stakes in February in the wake of a travel ban affecting refugees and visa applicants from seven (now six) Muslim-majority countries. Visitors would be asked to hand over their login details for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites as part of the standard security check

If you are traveling to the United States, you should be very careful about what you post on social media.  Anything posted online is open for potential scrutiny by immigration officials when requests for immigration benefits and admission to the United States are made.

Extreme Vetting of Foreign Visitors is Stepped Up

The Trump administration has raised the prospect of “extreme vetting.” It is yet to flesh out the details. Secretary Kelly, however, has made it clear in comments to Congress that it’s likely to including asking foreign visitors to supply passwords and user names for social media accounts. Failure to do so could result in a denial of access to the country.

Foreign visitors may already have their electronic devices such as smart phones, laptops or tablets searched by U.S. Customs and Border Control officials.

Trump has also been short on specifics about extreme vetting. In a speech during the election campaign in 2016, he referred to “extreme, extreme vetting,” intended to bar anyone who does not share “American values” from the United States,

He said until an appropriate test is ready, the U.S. should temporarily suspend immigration from countries with histories of spawning terrorists.

Two executive orders containing travel bans have been released to date, but we know little more about extreme vetting.

It’s clear that this is an uncertain time to travel. The rules are changing fast. Make sure to have the correct documents such as visas with you all the time when traveling Be cautious about what you post on social media.

If you encounter any problems, please contact an experienced Texas immigration attorneys. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Visas

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How Social Media has Changed the Way Crimes are Committed

By Peek & Toland on December 22, 2016

The massive growth in social media as a mainstream means of communications and sharing of material has dramatically changed the way crimes can be committed.

The rapid development of smart phones means material such as graphics and pictures can be shared in a matter of seconds. It also presents a challenge for law enforcement agencies to police this new media landscape.

For instance, a story in the Washington Post in February revealed how even sending a threatening emoji can constitute a criminal offense. A 12-year-old from Fairfax in Virginia was charged with threatening her school after police said she posted a message on Instagram. Reports stated it contained images of a gun, a bomb and a knife.

social media changes the way crimes are committed

Part of the message read “meet me in the library Tuesday.”

It wasn’t the first time an emoji has been considered as a threat. A jury tackled the question in New York. It was asked to decide whether an emoji with the face of a police officer and a gun represented a threat to police officers.

In Michigan, a judge was asked to interpret the meaning of a tongue sticking out. The cases raise important First Amendment questions.

The challenge for police and prosecutors is to draw a line between dark humor and threats. It’s a fine line between free expression and intimidation.

Social Media and Cyber Bullying

Texas, like other states, has had to catch up with digital advances in recent years by enacting cyber bullying statutes.

In our state, “cyberbullying” is defined using any electronic communication device to take part in bullying or intimidation. It doesn’t need to be on social media. It can be via a text message or email.

There is also a crime of harassment that can be committed by sending obscene material, or making threats or false reports.

You can commit the crime of online impersonation by creating a page on a website. You can also be charged with sending messages while pretending to be someone else. It has to be done with the aim of harming, defrauding, or intimidating to be charged.

Online impersonation can be either a felony or misdemeanor depending on the circumstances under the Texas Penal Code § 33.07.

Criminals Broadcast Offenses on Social Media

Ray Surette, a Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Florida, recently wrote about how social media is changing the way crimes are committed and the way the police respond.

In his article in LSE, he wrote about how people who made bomb threats in past years did it secretly. Now they are more likely to broadcast their threats on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. He noted a move toward “performance crimes” stating:

“It is better to get your performance out there and be known than to be unknown in a celebrity culture, even if criminality is required.”

Surette noted an increase in invasive law enforcement techniques to fight these crimes with police increasingly turning to body and car cameras and community surveillance camera systems.

At Peek & Toland , we constantly question police methods of evidence gathering. In Texas, a cell phone is not like a pair of shoes. It’s more akin to a personal computer and can’t be searched at will.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in State v. Granville that the contents of an inmate’s cell phone were protected, even when he was locked up. Police need a warrant to obtain the contents of your phone.

Threats on social media can range from vaguely threatening statements, as seen during the recent panic about clowns, to terrorist threats that could land you in jail for more than a decade.

If you have been charged with a crime on social media, call an experienced Austin criminal defense lawyer. Call us at Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

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