The US government has begun asking foreign visitors on the visa waiver program to volunteer links to their social media accounts.
It comes in the same week that the Dept. of Homeland Security announced it was going to stop its registry of visitors from predominantly Muslim and Arab countries.
Foreign travelers arriving in the United States, participating in the visa waiver program, are being asked by US customs and border guards to volunteer “information associated with your online presence – Provider/Platform – Social media identifier”.
Will the optional request for social media account information from visitors to US soon become non-optional? https://t.co/eIROnLDo54
— Ross Dawson (@rossdawson) 23 December 2016
A spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection confirmed the program began on Tuesday, according to Politico.
Details about the program emerged in June when the DHS said having access to social media details “will enhance the existing investigative process.”
The social media collection program “may help detect potential threats because experience has shown that criminals and terrorists, whether intentionally or not, have provided previously unavailable information via social media that identified their true intentions,” a CBP spokesperson told The Intercept in June, adding “the collection of social media identifiers will not be used to prevent travel based on [an] applicant’s political views, race or religion.”
— RT America (@RT_America) 24 August 2016
Social media information would be gathered in addition to the numerous database checks already carried out by border guards, including fingerprinting, iris scans, and a face-to-face interview.
There was opposition to the social media program, with the Internet Association joining in with consumer advocates to argue that the policy threatened free expression and posed new privacy and security risks to foreigners.
“There are very few rules about how the information is being collected, maintained [and] disseminated to other agencies, and there are no guidelines about limiting the government’s use of the information,” ACLU chief of staff Michael Macleod-Ball told Politico.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization or visa-waiver program allows for residents of other countries, including many western European nations as well as Japan and South Korea, to enter the US without a visa for up to 90 days as a tourist. In exchange, US residents may also travel to the 38 eligible countries without applying for a specific visa.
— RT America (@RT_America) 21 October 2016
Other changes to the visa waiver program were adopted a year ago by the US House of Representatives, and require all travelers who had visited a particular list of countries in the previous five years, including Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Sudan and Libya, to be subjected to increased scrutiny.
These latest incursion into people’s privacy follow the shooting massacre last December in San Bernardino, California in which 14 people were killed.
Law enforcement examination of the social media profiles of the killers who carried out the massacre provided a strong body of evidence for the investigation, although not enough to identify a motive, which still remains unclear.
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