By Aaron Kesel
The Trump administration is cracking down on your rights, employing more surveillance. A proposed State Department form would require all U.S. visa applicants, both immigrant and non, to disclose social media handles they have used from up to five years ago, as well as current and previous email addresses and phone numbers, Bloomberg reported.
The new 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.
The new forms will list distinct social media platforms and require visa applicants 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, although at the time of this report no merchant has been publicly chosen to implement the proposed program.
The plan would affect nearly 15 million people per year, according to an Associated Press report.
The idea of collecting social media information of visa applicants started during the Obama administration following the 2015 San Bernardino attack.
The disclosure rules would not apply to applicants from countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program, which permits travelers to be in the United States for 90 days for business or vacation without applying for a visa in advance.
The participating countries of the 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.
Also transpiring last year, 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.”
Civil liberties groups have 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.
This comes as the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is seeking to develop advanced facial recognition technology that scans the faces of travelers as they enter and leave the U.S. border on highways.
It is not known if the Immigration and Customs Enforcement would have access to this proposed facial recognition database, but it is assumed that authorities would have access to the data.
Earlier last year, Homeland Security clarified their position on domestic spying stating Americans who don’t want faces scanned leaving the country “shouldn’t travel.”
“The only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to collection of biometric information when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling,” the DHS wrote in a document.
In September of last year, Trump’s administration also quietly signed a bill to allow warrantless searches in parts of VA, MD and D.C. near the Metro train system disguised as a “safety commission” setting a new precedent.
However, buried within the bill’s text is a daunting “one major red flag” that would give the newly formed commission “the authority to enter property near the Metro Rail System ‘without limitation’ and without a warrant, for the purpose of ‘making inspections, investigations, examinations, and testing,” The Free Thought Project reported.
The public has 60 days to comment on the new visa social media proposal; comments can be sent to [email protected].