The New York Times: “U.S. Requiring Social Media Information From Visa Applicants”

by Georgina Escobar

A State Department policy effective May 31, 2019, now requires visa applicants to the United States to submit information about social media accounts they have used in the past five years. The account information requested would give the government access to photos, locations, dates of birth, dates of milestones, and other personal data commonly shared on social media. “We already request certain contact information, travel history, family member information, and previous addresses from all visa applicants,” the State Department said in a statement. “We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.”

The new policy is a result of a memorandum issued by President Donald Trump in 2017 on "vetting" for individuals coming to the US and a provision of an executive order blocking entry to the US for people from certain majority-Muslim countries, which also included a provision on vetting requirements. This policy has started a debate about privacy and government surveillance as authorities have estimated the proposal could affect 14.7 million people annually, including those who want to come to the US for business or education.

Some diplomatic and official visa applicants will be exempt from this enhanced screening. The director of the ACLU National Security Project, Hina Shamsi, said of the policy: "It will infringe on the rights of immigrants and US citizens by chilling freedom of speech and association, particularly because people will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official."

While DHS and US Embassies/Consulates have screened social media for immigrants before, social media monitoring ramped up significantly this year by the Trump administration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The added social media requirement may dissuade some visa applicants who may see it as “a psychological barrier to enter the United States,” writes Sandra E. Garcia in The New York Times. Hina Shamsi of the ACLU also notes that the government has “failed to explain how it would use this information” and furthermore that “the government has been unable to prove that social media can provide reliable indications that identify a security threat” and instead this shows the “government officials penalizing people’s speech, religious affiliation and other conduct.”