U.S. will collect social media info on foreigners who wish to enter the country

As an effort to monitor all immigrants entering the U.S. more meticulously, the Department of Homeland Security will shortly start requesting social media info from foreign travelers who wish to enter the country. Privacy supporters have been vocal about this being an unnecessary action that would do very little to improve national security.

Homeland Security published this requirement in the Federal Register establishing that it would collect “social medial handles, aliases, associated identifiable information and search results.” All of the collected data will have to be included in the applicant’s immigration file. The report also pointed out that all obtained data would come from, “publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers.”

Starting October 18th, the department will gather all available social media information on foreign visitors traveling to the U.S.. On this date, Trump’s new travel ban will be enforced. It has also been reported that Green card holders as well as naturalized citizens social media accounts will be assembled. All of the retrieved information will become part of their immigration background.

As off right now, the United States has different requirements for travelers from specific countries. The ESTA, for instance, is a system used by the US Government to determine eligibility status of citizens from selected countries. Eligible applicants are not expected to apply for a visa, but they must complete the online application process. Another authorization travel program is the EVUS, which at the moment is only available for Chinese nationals.

The national political director of American Civil Liberties Union, Faiz Shakir, declared in a public statement that, “This collect-it-all approach is ineffective to protect national security and is one more example of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.” Homeland Security’s recent decision has most certainly alarmed lawyers and privacy groups who are worried about how the information will be used and the impact it can have on privacy overall.

Although the Trump administration’s decision has been controversial for many people, this is not the U.S. first attempt at obtaining social media data from travelers. Under Obama’s presidency, the department of Homeland Security had already asked foreign visitors to provide their social media information deliberately. Even though it was not a requirement, it was an available option. The San Bernardino mass shooting shook America and it sparked a debate on the importance of social media for terrorist activities. Lawyers and lobbyists against terrorism expressed much concern on the power of social media and how it is used by terrorist movements.

Several Republican and Democrat members of congress have urged the government to collect social media from foreigners wishing to visit the United States. They believe that this would allow them to monitor terrorist activity. The New York Times has reported that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has in fact reviewed social media data when screening Syrian refugees, however, only when the person’s profile was flagged.

People traveling to the U.S. will have to comply with this new requirement during their application process. As of October 18th, foreign visitors must give up social media info when traveling to the United States.

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