Starting on Oct. 18, the U.S. government will start collecting a larger amount of information from immigrant and naturalized American citizens.
These new bits of information include social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results among the list of 12 new data points the Department of Homeland Security will be collecting.
This has left a lot of people unsure about what they can do to keep themselves and their information safe, especially when it comes to social media outlets. So, with their interest in mind, we will share some things that you may not be aware of, and that you might want to do differently if you are someone who is afraid these changes may be a bad thing.
First thing to keep in mind: If you post something on Facebook, it’s not just yours anymore.
We’ve all done it – bought some new software or technology, or joined some new site or service and before we can try our brand-new thing, we have to read through 200 pages and agree to the terms and conditions.
Take Facebook, for example. The content you’ve posted, like your name, pictures, posts etc., are available for Facebook to use at its discretion, such as for advertising, and even redistributing. That could include something like using your face, your name and your posted content to endorse services and products you don’t use, without any approval or compensation. So, the company could put your name and a picture of your face along with that post you made about having a “hard day” on an advertisement for erectile dysfunction medication.
Twitter is about the same. You retain ownership for your pictures and comments, but the company can take your pictures and posts and re-use them at any point without your consent, or without paying you a dime.
This means these social media companies can basically do anything they want to with your information once you’ve posted it on their site. And this includes handing it over to the government. Don’t count on Facebook, Twitter, or the like to withhold information from the government when its agents come and ask, because those entities don’t have to ask your permission, and they are a lot less likely to care about being on your bad side than on the government’s.
Some good news? When it comes to personal security online, there are tips and tricks you can use to keep yourself safe. Never post your address, and don’t post your phone number or contact information on your social media site.
There also are security settings you can use to limit who can access your information, and while that doesn’t, for example, stop Mark Zuckerberg from viewing all of your Facebook information, it will stop the average person, and law enforcement from effortlessly accessing your information unless they have a warrant.
Still, the best way to keep the government from getting your information is by not posting it to begin with. If you are an immigrant who’s not legal, or someone who for any reason doesn’t want the government to look at your online postings, then don’t use Facebook or other social media.
That being said, social media is an aspect of most people’s life, and as such people who want to avoid government eyes need to be extra careful about what they post. This goes doubly true when you “check in” and announce to the world where you are.
If you post it, the authorities can access it, and unfortunately with the near-unilateral power the federal government now holds under the guise of “fighting terror” since the enactment of bills and laws such as the Patriot Act approved in 2001, that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
The technology may have changed dramatically, but no different than, say, 30 years ago: You are responsible for what is attached to your name. The difference is just now it’s so much easier to put information out there; the negative consequences can still be the same. You’re responsible for what you say, so don’t say or do anything online you wouldn’t be willing to say or do in front of your parents or a police officer.