Silicon Valley Bashes DHS Proposal To Require Social Media Log-Ins

Silicon Valley is joining with digital rights advocates to oppose a potential new rule that would require travelers from some countries to disclose their social media passwords in order to enter the U.S.

"This proposal would enable border officials to invade people’s privacy by examining years of private emails, texts, and messages," the groups write in a statement issued today. "It would expose travelers and everyone in their social networks, including potentially millions of U.S. citizens, to excessive, unjustified scrutiny. And it would discourage people from using online services or taking their devices with them while traveling, and would discourage travel for business, tourism, and journalism."

The trade group Internet Association, which counts Amazon, eBay, Google and Facebook as members, was among more than 50 organizations to sign the statement. Others included the American Society of News Editors, the industry-funded think tank Future of Privacy Forum and digital rights groups like the Center for Democracy & Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The statement comes two weeks after Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Congress the administration may require some travelers to reveal their social media log-ins. "We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say?" he reportedly testified to the House Homeland Security Committee. At the time, Kelly said the potential requirement would apply to travelers from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen -- the seven countries named in President Donald Trump's original travel ban. (Judges recently placed that order on hold, but Trump has said he plans to issue a revised ban later this week.)

Even without the new rule, U.S. border officials have been accused of going too far in their demands to access electronic media. For instance, late last month border officials in Houston demanded that U.S. citizen and NASA researcher Sidd Bikkannavar unlock his phone in order to enter the country, according to The Verge.

That incident has prompted some observers to question whether people should take their mobile phones with them when they travel.

But the proposal floated by Kelly apparently would require people to disclose their passwords regardless of whether they traveled with their devices.

The Internet Association and other opponents point out that other countries would likely follow the lead of the U.S. and require U.S. citizens to disclose their passwords in order to visit. "This would compromise U.S. economic security, cybersecurity, and national security, as well as damage the U.S.’s relationships with foreign governments and their citizenry," the groups argue.

"The first rule of online security is simple: Do not share your passwords," the Internet Association and others state. "No government agency should undermine security, privacy, and other rights with a blanket policy of demanding passwords from individuals."

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