Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses, and Your Snapchat Username

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Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses, and Your Snapchat Username

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Visitors to the United States, including those using the Visa Waiver Program and those using Visitors Visas,  have long been required to fill out forms to submit to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) prior to admission to the United States.  On June 23, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) submitted a proposal which would expand the information requested of visitors at the time of entry.

Specifically, the visitor would be requested to “enter information associated with your online presence—provider/platform—social identity identifier.”  The proposal states that “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.”

So DHS now wants to ask people to turn over their “social media identifiers” upon entry to the country.  Presumably, visitors wanting to properly complete the form would thus be handing over their account names for Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and other platforms.  Visitors would be left to hope that government officials choose not to review any personal or embarrassing content.  Or worse, content critical of U.S. government policy or complaining of treatment by DHS officials which could lead to retaliation.

Citing the highly invasive nature of this proposal, the American Immigrations Lawyers Association (AILA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and other organizations submitted a letter to CBP requesting that it abandon the idea, stating, “it is clear that an open-ended inquiry into ‘online presence’ would give DHS a window into applicants’ private lives. Individuals’ ‘online presence’ could include their reading lists, political affinities, professional activities, and private diversions.”

This letter and other comments from the public are currently being considered. A final decision on whether the CBP proposal will become a reality will likely come in late 2016 or early 2017.

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