Commentary

State Dept. To Expand Social Media Screening Of Travelers

The U.S. government wants travelers to cough up their old MySpace handles, too, it seems.

This week the State Department revealed plans to widen social media screening for some visa applicants, including a new rule that would require them to divulge all their social media handles from the past five years – and possibly refuse them entry to the country should they elect not to.

According to a new notice published by the State Department in the Federal Register, if approved the new measures would apply to around 65,000 visa applicants every year – or 0.5% of the total number of applicants – who are judged to warrant extra vetting.

Refusing to divulge the handles won’t automatically disqualify applicants, but in cases where they refuse, admission will require a “credible explanation” of the reason for their refusal, suggesting the default will be rejection in these cases.

In addition to asking for all prior social media handles going back five years, the new rules would require them to provide old email addresses and phone numbers for the same period, old residential addresses and employment history for the last 15 years, travel history over this longer period, old passport numbers, and the names and dates of birth of all family members, including children, siblings, and spouses.

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Visa applicants affected by the new requirements would not be asked for their social media passwords.

The State Department didn’t reveal what criteria will be used to determine whether an individual receives the expanded vetting.

If approved, the new rule will take effect May 18.

The latest screening measure is just one of an overlapping series of security reviews involving social media proposed by the new administration.

In March the Department of Homeland Security introduced mandatory social media screening for any visa applicants who have spent time in territory controlled by the terrorist group ISIS.

In April the Department of Homeland Security proposed requiring 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 rules 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.

In February the White House proposed a new measure that would ask (but not require) Chinese visa holders to submit their social media profiles for review by customs officials when they visit the United States.
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