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US Now Demands Social Media Data From Visa Applicants

TwitterAmericaPrivacySocial Media privacyU.S. Department of StateSocial Media DataESTAVisaUSAauthoritiesfirst amendment rightsthe Hillterroismvetting

If you recently travelled to the US or are planning to, you have probably already been asked to share your social media providers and identifiers on the Visa or ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). So far, it was an optional requirement. But, as of next Friday, providing this information will be mandatory.

 

Social Media Accounts
Screenshot from the current ESTA form

 

 

Not only that, but you will have to declare all of your social media accounts from the past 5 years, active or not. Naturally, not doing so may result in “serious immigration consequences“. The only exceptions are, of course, those who really don’t have any social media accounts and diplomats.

 

The American government strongly believes that this movement will prevent terrorists from entering the country to carry out attacks.

 

“This is a critical step forward in establishing enhanced vetting of foreign nationals, seeking entry into the United States”

Statement by:
an U.S. Department of State official

Government officials and supporters of this new measure promote its anti-terrorism aspects. For example, they highlight the case of the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, in which the killer showed terrorist sympathies on her social media. However, she managed to get a visa to enter the country, as officials were not aware of these posts. The argument is, if the government can review the social media activities of those intending to travel to their country, they can reject applicants who present a risk.  They also believe it’s a simple case of ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’.

 

Civil Liberty Concerns

However, opponents of this new measure disagree and claim it’s an ineffective and invasive measure. More precisely, they believe it violates first amendment rights such as free speech. One point is that applicants will be fearful of posting anything that can be remotely misconstrued. Another risk for applicants is rejected due to the biases of the officer reviewing the application. Having access to applicants social media gives much more insight into their lives and beliefs.

 

For example, back in 2012, a British and Irish pair were denied entry into the U.S after publically making some unsavory tweets, intended as a joke. One was about digging up Marlyn Monroe’s grave (apparently a Family Guy reference). Another tweet referred to ‘destroying America’, which in their dialect is the equivalent to ‘getting wrecked”. So, even though they simply meant going to America and partying hard, the U.S authorities obviously didn’t see it that way.

 

While these were particularly poor choices of words, it does raise the question of this happening in more innocent circumstances. Especially as we cannot tell one’s tone as easily as in verbal communication. Additionally, words and phrases can mean drastically different things on opposite ends of the Atlantic.

 

Conclusion

Regardless of what side of this debate you are on, its a discussion worth following. Clearly, social media is increasingly used more and more in evaluating our character in the offline world. We already know employers check our social media accounts. Now we see how the wrong tweet can affect our personal lives as well, so what’s next?

 

Nevertheless, social media is just one major example of how technology is changing our lives. But, it is up to us to ensure it does so in a positive way. In the meantime, follow us for the latest news.

 

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