Want to visit the United States? If the State Department has its way, then visa applicants should be ready to hand over a five-year history of their social media accounts, email addresses and phone numbers. What I’d like to say after that is ‘April Fools!’ Sadly, however, it’s not a joke.
One question lists multiple social media platforms and requires the applicant to provide any identifiers used by applicants for those platforms during the five years preceding the date of application. The platforms listed may be updated by the Department by adding or removing platforms. Additional platforms will be added only if collection is consistent with the uses described in the Supporting Statement and after Office of Management and Budget approval.
In addition, the applicant will be given the option to provide information about any social media identifiers associated with any platforms other than those that are listed that the applicant has used in the last five years. The Department will collect this information from visa applicants for identity resolution and vetting purposes based on statutory visa eligibility standards.
That’s not all; other questions will ask applicants to provide a five-year history of “previously used telephone numbers, email addresses, and international travel; whether the applicant has been deported or removed from any country; and whether specified family members have been involved in terrorist activities.”
According to Drexel University associate law professor Anil Kalhan, “This is unnecessarily intrusive and beyond ridiculous.”
This attempt to collect a massive amount of information on the social media activity of millions of visa applicants is yet another ineffective and deeply problematic Trump administration plan. It will infringe on the rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens by chilling freedom of speech and association, particularly because people will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official.
“We’re also concerned about how the Trump administration defines the vague and overbroad term ‘terrorist activities’ because it is inherently political and can be used to discriminate against immigrants who have done nothing wrong,” Shamsi added.
As Arwa Mahdawi pointed out in The Guardian, “If you’re planning a terrorist attack I highly doubt that you’re tweeting ‘can’t wait until I martyr myself LOL’ or sharing hilarious ISIS gifs. And if you were, then I’m fairly sure the NSA might have a few ways of figuring that out already.”
The U.S. grants visa-free travel to 38 countries such as Australia, Canada, the U.K., Germany, France and Japan. If the proposal is approved, then people from countries not on that list would be required to hand over their data before coming to the U.S. for work, education or to vacation. The department estimated that about 710,000 immigrant visa applicants and 14 million non-immigrant visa applicants would be affected.
The public has 60 days to comment on the proposals.