Commentary

DHS Uses Social Nets to Find Immigrant Marriage Fraud

Bride-Groom-cake-decorations

Social networks carry a number of risks for users who are gullible or share too much information, including burglary, scams, stalking, and divorce. Now you can add deportation to the list: according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation under a Freedom of Information Act request, it seems the Department of Homeland Security has been using social networks to ferret out fake "green card" marriages between U.S. citizens and immigrants for the purpose of obtaining residency or citizenship for the latter.

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Some of the methods detailed in these internal documents are telling (if not damning) comments on the ways people expose themselves through social media. For example: "Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuels a need to have a large group of 'friends' link to their pages and many of these people accept cyber-friends that they don't even know. This provides an excellent vantage point for [the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security] to observe the daily life of beneficiaries and petitioners who are suspected of fraudulent activities."

Ouch! Dude, the federal government just called you narcissistic. That's got to sting. But you do have to wonder about people who have so many Facebook friends they feel compelled to open extra accounts.

While all the techniques described in the memo appear to be legal, EFF points out there is a significant risk for "mission creep" leading agents to begin monitoring other individuals besides the target of the investigation -- classic "social surfing" behavior, which acquires rather menacing overtones, however, when it's federal agents doing the idle clicking.

Further, EFF staff attorney Jennifer Lynch warns: "Unfortunately, this memo suggests there's nothing to prevent an exaggerated, harmless or even out-of-date off-hand comment in a status update from quickly becoming the subject of a full citizenship investigation."

Of course, social media cuts both ways, since it's not terribly difficult to construct an online Potemkin village creating the appearance of a real, genuine marriage. It might even be kind of fun: the fake couple and their friends could get together offline, establish a schedule, and write a "script" detailing the progress of their entirely spurious romance, corroborated by acquaintances through occasional casual comments, staged photos, and so on. Why, this sounds like a clever idea for a romantic comedy; needless to say, in the Hollywood version the couple actually falls in love.

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