The U.S. State Department has announced that people traveling to the U.S. for work or for studying abroad will have to hand over five years worth of their social media information, email addresses, and phone numbers to apply for a visa, NY Timesreported.
Authorities estimated the proposal would affect nearly 15 million people annually according to figures last year by Associated Press.
Certain diplomatic and official visa applicants will be exempt from the insane privacy violations.
However, people traveling to the U.S. to work or to study will have to hand over all their personal information before they are even allowed into the U.S.
“We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens while supporting legitimate travel to the United States,” the department reportedly said.
The idea of collecting social media information of visa applicants started during the Obama administration following the 2015 San Bernardino attack, WSJ reported.
U.S. Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) a component agency of DHS, first made the proposal in June 2016 under the Obama administration, Trump just carried on the policy for his “extreme vetting” which he promised during his campaign.
Starting in May 2017 and standardized in October 2017, State Department consulate officials began collecting social media information, phone numbers, and email addresses for the past five years from “certain immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants worldwide who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism, national security-related, or other visa ineligibilities.”
Last year, Activist Postreported that the Trump administration was cracking down on your rights, employing more surveillance with a proposed State Department form would require all U.S. visa applicants, both immigrant and non, to disclose social media handles used from up to five years ago, as well as current and previous email addresses and phone numbers.
The suggested requirement is broader than previous filings, which had made social media disclosure voluntary and applied to only a portion of visa applicants entering the U.S. when scrutiny was warranted, such as when applicants were coming from various parts of the world controlled by terrorist groups.
Further, there used to be an exception for applicants from countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program, which permitted travelers to be in the United States for 90 days for business or vacation without applying for a visa in advance. That program is now killed entirely.
The previous participating countries of the now-defunct Visa Waiver Program include – Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.
The forms were posted last year and state that applicants will list distinct social media platforms and requires them to “provide any identifiers used by applicants for those platforms during the five years preceding the date of application.” Platforms may be added or removed as the program develops, the release stated.
The forms will also require a five-year history of telephone numbers and addresses, travel and deportation statuses, and if members of their family have been involved in any terrorist activity.
This crackdown is the latest in an ongoing effort to collect more information on U.S. visitors’ social media activities as they enter the country. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is actively soliciting companies to assist in sifting through the resulting data.
A February 2017, DHS Inspector General report found that early versions of the screening program had failed to set clear objectives, and at least one of the proposed implemented tools “was not a viable option for automated social media screening and that manual review was more effective at identifying accounts.”
The goal according to a U.S. Federal Register document states that “collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide Department of Homeland Security (DHS) greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”
Civil liberties groups have previously condemned the policy as an invasion of privacy that could damage free speech.
“People will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official,” Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union said. “We’re also concerned about how the Trump administration defines the vague and over-broad term ‘terrorist activities’ because it is inherently political and can be used to discriminate against immigrants who have done nothing wrong,” she said.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation also joined a coalition effort, led by the Brennan Center for Justice, to oppose the social media requirement policy in 2017, along with dozens of other organizations.
The Trump administration is alarmingly violating and threatening digital privacy and freedom of expression of innocent foreign travelers and the many U.S. citizens who communicate with them through dragnet surveillance, according to the EFF.
It’s extremely terrifying that now the government wants to keep a database of everyone’s social media profiles; it’s a huge overreach violation of one’s right to privacy. Especially following whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations on what the NSA can do with that information using programs like XKeyscore. One would imagine that this information would be shared with all agencies under the government’s umbrella.
Activist Post can only imagine the government’s response to that assessment since previously Homeland Security clarified their position on domestic spying by stating that Americans who don’t want faces scanned when leaving the country “shouldn’t travel.” Does that also apply for foreign citizens who don’t want to have their social media lives dug into?
Aaron Kesel writes for Activist Post, where this article first appeared.