The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has an existing program that requires visa applicants to hand over their social media information. These applicants would include people who are traveling to the US for business or education.
Recently, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will also request those details on more forms. These would include applications for asylum and naturalization.
This is about the Trump administration policy to require information including social media history of applicants. Before the latest policy, approximately 65,000 applicants were subject to this extra screening process.
The increased requests are a representation of how the US government agencies are expanding their social medial surveillance use. But these agencies may misinterpret some of the online postings of these applicants. Furthermore, these additional requests may interfere with freedom of speech.
In a DHS notice, it shows that the agency plans to request refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants to provide usernames for 19 sites, including Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and several others.
If the applicants withhold these pieces of information on those forms, they could face serious consequences related to their application. US border officials also denied entry to some individuals after they searched their phones and obtained scanty proof of their social media activities.
In one of those incidents, a Harvard student was denied entry because a border agency found that his social media accounts followed those individuals who expressed political points of view that contradict the US. This student was from Lebanon.
The information in social media accounts did not give clear links to national security concerns.
The DHS stated that the social media details collection would make it more efficient to review public social media information. The USCIS would store the information from the forms for up to 12 years. The Electronic Visa Update System of CBP will archive the details for 12 years.
The additional screening also requires foreigners to share their past social media phone numbers, email addresses, foreign travel dating back five years. These applicants will also be asked if they have been deported or if their family members have a connection to terrorist groups. But these agencies are not planning to ask diplomats or official applicants for these details.
But the collection of social media information is stated to be an ineffective Trump administration plan. It interferes with the rights of immigrants and US citizens. They may now wonder if what they publish online will be misinterpreted by a government official.
With this latest update, every prospective traveler or immigrant to the US will have to undergo comprehensive security screening. These agencies are working to find more ways to improve the screening process. The goal here is to protect US citizens while it supports legal travel to the US.
But this move could be a problematic proposal. It has nothing to do with protecting the security of the country. Rather, it increases privacy concerns and First Amendment issues for immigrants and citizens.
The DHS will seek comments from interested parties on this new rule until November 4.