DHS May Add Social Profiles To Visa Waiver Forms

Visitors to the U.S. under its visa waiver program may soon be asked to list their social media profiles for scrutiny by Customs and Border Protection officials, according to a Department of Homeland Security proposal first publicized in the Federal Register. However, the decision to provide information about social media profiles would be strictly voluntary, and not required to enter the country under the visa waiver program.

The visa waiver program allows foreign nationals from a number of countries to enter the U.S. without a visa for visits of up to 90 days, streamlining the process for tourists and businesspeople, among others. The DHS submitted the proposal to add social media profiles to the program for public comment in the Federal Register, where it is open to feedback until August 22.

In addition to being optional, the proposed addition wouldn’t ask visitors for their social media passwords, so CBP agents would only be able to view information that is already publicly available on an individual’s profiles.

The proposal in the Federal Register explained: “Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

However, lawmakers are dubious about the value of a voluntary system. In a statement regarding the proposal, Representative Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) blasted voluntary social media screening as inadequate: “What terrorist is going to give our government permission to see their radical jihadist rants on social media? The only people who will share that information are those with nothing to hide. Voluntary disclosure won’t keep anyone safe. If we want to win on the digital battlefield, mandatory screening is required.”

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, Congress passed a law tightening requirements for entry under the visa waiver program, and is currently considering legislation authored by Buchanan requiring the DHS to review social media information, along with all other public records, from all foreign visitors.

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