“Extreme vetting” is getting even more extreme, with the Trump administration’s proposal to require social media passwords and smartphone contacts from all visitors to the United States, regardless of their country of origin – a massive expansion of previously proposed screening measures, which would have required social media passwords only for visitors from certain countries.
The new measures would require visa applicants to turn over their smartphones and social media account logins and passwords to agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection working in their countries of origin, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news.
This would give agents access to applicants’ private communications on social media, as well as their public posts.
The new rules may also apply to visitors from 38 countries that have been admitted to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows the citizens of those countries to skip much of the red tape involved in obtaining travel documents.
U.S. officials may also be empowered to ask for foreign visitors’ bank statements, according to The Times in the UK.
U.S. lawmakers are already working on a bill that will force U.S. officials to obtain a warrant before they can search the smartphones or other devices of American citizens returning to the U.S. at the border, airports, or elsewhere.
The bill would establish limits on “border search” powers, which have previously allowed federal agents to search the devices of American citizens within 100 miles of the nation’s borders, without first having to obtain a warrant.
According to previous reports, Customs and Border Protection agents conducted more than 23,000 searches of electronic devices last year, up four-fold from 2015, although it’s not clear how many of these searches targeted devices owned by U.S. citizens.
The new proposed measures for social media and mobile screening come as other elements of the administration’s security strategy, most notably two attempts to ban travelers from a handful of Muslim-majority countries, remain on hold following court orders blocking them as possibly unconstitutional while awaiting a final ruling.The sweeping nature of the new measures, covering all visitors to the U.S., may be intended to neutralize objections that it targets one group or class of people (e.g., Muslims) unfairly.