A hot potato: The rule about being careful what you put on social media appears to be especially relevant for anyone entering the US. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has used an AI-powered tool to scan through social platforms to identify any visa applicants' posts that are "derogatory" to the US.

The system, called Giant Oak Search Technology (GOST), ranks a person's social media scores from one to 100 based on what it thinks is relevant to the user's specific mission. The database is searchable using identifiers such as a person's name, address, email address, and country of citizenship.

After clicking on a specific individual, analysts can review images collected from the subject's social media accounts and elsewhere, and give them a thumbs up or thumbs down rating. It's also possible for the analysts to look at the person's social media profiles, and their "social graph," themselves to see any potential connections with others.

404 Media reports that a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought by both the ACLU and the ACLU of Northern California showed GOST has been used by immigration services and multiple government agencies since 2014. ICE has paid Giant Oak Inc. more than $10 million since 2017, according to public procurement records.

GOST was part of a 2016 pilot called the HSI [Homeland Security Investigations] PATRIOT Social Media Pilot Program that targeted potential overstay violators from countries of concern.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the State Department, the Air Force, and the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, which is part of the US Treasury, have all paid for Giant Oak services over the last nearly ten years.

The GOST website states that it leverages information on the open and deep web and applies search parameters focused on behavioral patterns rather than identity labels.

"The government should not be using algorithms to scrutinize our social media posts and decide which of us is 'risky.' And agencies certainly shouldn't be buying this kind of black box technology in secret without any accountability," said Patrick Toomey, Deputy Director of the ACLU's National Security Project. "DHS needs to explain to the public how its systems determine whether someone is a 'risk' or not, and what happens to the people whose online posts are flagged by its algorithms."

The records state that the contract between the DHS and Giant Oak ended in August 2022.

Back in 2019, the Trump administration brought in new rules first proposed in March 2018 in which visa applicants must hand over details of any social media channels they have used in the past 5 years. The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security can hold onto this information indefinitely, share it with other federal agencies, and disclose it - in some circumstances, to foreign governments.

2019 was the same year that a Harvard student was denied entry to the US because of his friends' social media activity.