Social Media, Privacy and Immigration Proceedings
In the age of social media, information privacy has been propelled to the forefront of public discussion. Information about an individual’s family, friends, job and other aspects of their personal lives can be viewed and made accessible to third parties without their knowledge. And with individuals increasingly sharing information about the various parts of their lives on social media platforms, many of them do not realize that this information can be used by third parties for purposes other than intended or understood by the users.
Publicly available personal information shared on social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, is being increasingly used as evidence in Canadian immigration proceedings. In matters before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, it is not uncommon for refugee claimants and permanent residents to rely on such evidence to make their case. Similarly, it is also not uncommon for the Canada Border Services Agency to rely on social media information to undermine the allegations made by a refugee claimant in a hearing before the Refugee Protection Division (RPD), or the version of events presented by a permanent resident in an appeal before the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD).
What is important to know is that the rules of evidence are not as strictly applied before administrative tribunals as they are before courts of law. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, both the RPD and the IAD may receive and base a decision on evidence adduced in the proceedings that the tribunal considers credible or trustworthy in the circumstances. This is also the case for admissibility hearings before the Immigration Division. In other words, a printout of a refugee claimant’s Facebook posts or photos, or a printout of a permanent resident’s LinkedIn profile, can be used by the RPD and IAD to assess the veracity of an individual’s allegations or version of events, and ultimately their overall credibility.
The problem is the inherent risk that is associated with the use of evidence obtained through social media, as the information may not necessarily be reliable or even trustworthy. For example, an individual may post certain information or photos to impress their friends, but which may be misinterpreted if taken out of context. Another example is when an individual forgets to update their online profile or even bolsters their resume by adding international work experience that may not be entirely accurate. A decision-maker will have to weigh this evidence and assess its value, but the refugee claimant or the permanent resident will often bear the burden of proving its reliability and trustworthiness, or its lack thereof.
A simple and very useful tip for individuals still in the Canadian immigration system, or for people in general, is to make sure social media accounts are private. This tip will help prevent unauthorized access to information that could potentially be used for unintended purposes by third parties. As the old adage goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.