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Brits Interrogated, Deported Over Twitter Comments

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on February 07, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod recently asked whether the Department of Homeland Security is watching you. It is, if you're inclined to believe DHS' 2011 Privacy Compliance Review.

That report included details about DHS' "Social Networking/Media Capability." Agents routinely monitor "publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites and message boards."

Just last week, that monitoring got two British tourists deported.

Leigh Van Bryan, 26, and Emily Bunting, 24, were detained by Homeland Security after passing through customs at Los Angeles International Airport. The two were locked up and interrogated for 12 hours before being put on a plane back to Europe.

The interrogation and subsequent deportation were the result of a Twitter joke.

Before leaving on his trip, Bryan tweeted at a friend, "Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?"

"Destroy" is British slang for "party," according to ABC News.

Agents also focused on another tweet in which Bryan said he planned to be "diggin' Marilyn Monroe up!" Agents asked Bunting if she was going to be his lookout.

Despite the pair's protestations, the interrogation persisted. Agents also demonstrated an utter lack of understanding of Bryan's "Tweeter Web site account," according to the New York Times.

It's no surprise that DHS homed in on Bryan's tweets. But it is surprising just how out of touch agents are with today's youth. They need a better understanding of slang (foreign and domestic), and a lesson or two on context. Social media lessons would be a good thing, too.

Without better training, more and more of these incidents will occur. And some of them may even involve Americans.

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