Commentary

DHS Begins Asking For Visitors' Social Media Info

As promised, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun asking visitors from abroad to voluntarily provide details of their social media accounts, allowing customs officials to screen them for potential affiliation with Islamist extremist organizations, according to Politico, which first reported the news. The move follows criticism of the DHS for failing to investigate the couple who committed the terrorist attack in San Bernardino last December based on their social media activity.

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.

Under the new screening system, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service is including a query on its Electronic System for Travel Authorization form for individuals seeking entrance to the country under a visa waiver program, asking them to provide information identifying their social media accounts. The electronic form provides a pull-down menu that includes a number major social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube; it also asks for user names, screen names, or other identifying information.

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As noted, the social media screening is currently strictly voluntary, but civil liberties groups claim that it will pressure visitors into providing social media information, for fear that failing to do so will result in even closer scrutiny. For their part, supporters of the new screening measures argue that domestic security takes priority over the privacy of foreign visitors, who in any event do not enjoy the full protection of civil liberties accorded to U.S. citizens.

Finally, skeptics note that would-be terrorists seeking entry to the U.S. are unlikely to provide information that would incriminate them to the authorities.

Following the original proposal for voluntary screening, Representative Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) argued: “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.”
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