What You Say On Twitter May Keep You Out Of The United States

By | January 30, 2012

We were disturbed by reports today that two British travelers were questioned, detained, and deported by the Department of Homeland Security, allegedly because of two tweets.  Leigh Van Bryan and Emily Bunting say they were questioned

English: Seal of the United States Department ...

for hours, detained, placed in a cell with violent criminals who stole their food, and finally sent back to England.

All because Mr. Bryan joked on Twitter that he was going to “destroy America” during his trip — an apparent reference to partying — as well as dig up the grave of Marylin Monroe — a joke.

“The Homeland Security agents were treating me like some kind of terrorist,” Mr. Bryan, a 26-year-old Irish citizen, said in an interview published in the British tabloid The Daily Mail.

“‘You’ve really messed up with that tweet, boy,’” Mr. Bryan remembered one agent saying, using a more profane expression for messed up.

He was questioned under oath about his postings to Twitter, according to images of a document said to be from the agency. The document, posted by The Daily Mail and quoted by The Sun, appeared to demonstrate a less-than-full understanding of social media by agents explaining the reason for the questioning:

Mr. Bryan confirmed that he had posted on his Tweeter Web site account that he was coming to the United States to dig up the grave of Marilyn Monroe. Also on his tweeter account Mr. Bryan posted that he was coming to destroy America.

The authenticity of the document could not be independently verified. It was photographed by Small World News Service, an independent British news agency that frequently pays its sources for stories. Mr. Bryan and Ms. Bunting posed together for portraits by the SWNS news agency that appeared in tabloids on Monday, including the Daily Mail and the Sun.

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A call to Donald Triner, acting director of the agency office overseeing an initiative on “Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness,” was directed to the press office.

We hope desperately there is more to this story, but the DHS has not yet commented. Based on the statements of the two British nationals that have appeared in the press, there is cause for alarm.

The reports indicate that DHS is monitoring Twitter(and other sites) and curtailing free speech: According to the reports, DHS was aware of the tourists’ tweets and singled them out for questioning as a result. These tweets should seem harmless to anyone familiar with Twitter. DHS refused to accept the explanations of the pair and deported them.  This potentially chilling effect on the free speech of any American citizen or any person interested in visiting the United States.  So much for President Obama’s recent initiative to promote and streamline international tourism.  In this case, the statements were jokes. It is a short step for the DHS to begin flagging people for legitimate dissent. We hope the DHS will soon issue a statement detailing what really happened, as we believe that this report, sweeping the internet, must be false.  It just doesn’t make sense. If what is being reported is in fact the whole story, then we have lost our liberty, and didn’t even know it.