A recent USCIS memo (undated, source unknown) discussed a new way of learning about you: visiting your social network profiles. They even have a good name for it: unannounced cyber “site visit.” In plain English, secretly peeking at what you do or say online.
The primary purpose is to detect fraud. Say you have been talking to your friends on Facebook for a year about your girlfriend in another country, and how you’ve been planning for the big day, but all of a sudden you applied for green card based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. Not saying that it won’t happen – people do fall in love quickly – but you bet it will raise a couple red flags if USCIS officials somehow become aware of your above conversations.
However effective it may be, the method itself sounds a little creepy. Are there undercover USCIS agents who register on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and other social networks just so they can “friend” their targets for investigation? What is next?
Internet privacy, or the lack thereof, has been debated extensively for years. The increasing popularity of social networks makes it an even more pressing issue. But now you know that as an immigrant, you really have to be extremely careful what you say online – not to defraud anyone, but to avoid unnecessary questioning later on in your immigration journey.
Below is an excerpt from the memo:
Social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Blassmates, Hi-5 and other similar sites are designed to allow people to share their creativity, pictures, and information with others. Sometimes people do this to find romance, sometimes they do it to find friends with similar interests, and sometimes they do it to keep in touch with family. 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 FDNS (Fraud Detection and National Security – IR) to observe the daily life of beneficiaries and petitioners who are suspected of fraudulent activities. Generally, people on these site speak honestly in their network because all of their friends and family are interacting with them via IM’s (Instant Messages), Blogs (Weblog journals), etc. This social networking gives FDNS an opportunity to reveal fraud by browsing these sites to see if petitioners and beneficiaries are in a valid relationship or are attempting to deceive CIS about their relationship. Once a user posts online, they creat a public record and timeline of their activities. In essence, using MySpace and other like sites is akin to doing an unannounced cyber “site-visit” on a petitioners and beneficiaries.