Visiting America? US border agents want your Twitter, Facebook URLs

It'll be optional – for now. Next: your browser history

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency wants to collect links to social network accounts of people visiting the Land of the FreeTM.

Under new proposals, each traveler filling out an I-94 travel form or applying for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) visa will be asked for "information associated with your online presence/social media identifier."

In other words, you'll be asked to hand over your Twitter and Instagram handles, Facebook and LinkedIn URLs, and so on, so you can be watched.

"It will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information," the proposal states.

"Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS [Department of Homeland Security] 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."

The CBP already does some social media monitoring of incoming travelers, as was shown in 2012 when two visitors were detained on arrival and held for questioning, before being deported 12 hours later, because of comments one of them had made on Twitter.

Irish national Leigh Van Bryan was flying into Los Angeles with British friend Emily Bunting and was pulled over for questioning based on a tweet Van Bryan had made before the flight, in which he said "Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America."

He also joked online, three weeks before his trip, that the duo were going to be "totally in LA p*ssing people off on Hollywood Blvd and diggin' Marilyn Monroe up!"

The two protested that "destroy" was meant as a term for partying to excess, and said that they had no intention of digging up the decaying beauty queen. Van Bryan claims a customs officer told him: "You've really f***ed up with that tweet, boy."

Similar mistakes are likely if customs officers start trawling through the social media postings, not to mention the limited utility of such searches. It's almost inconceivable that any terrorist harboring murderous ambitions would be posting messages on social media about it, and then would hand over the details of that account to customs.

Then again, those familiar with I-94 forms will remember it included the question, "Have you ever participated in persecutions directed by the Nazi government or Germany; or have you ever participated in genocide?" The CBP has never admitted it caught repentant aging Nazis in this way, but it seems unlikely.

The new CBP proposal for social media isn't set in stone yet, and people can object to the plans within the next 60 days before a final decision is made. ®

Bootnote

Read this: The Register Guide to data security when visiting the US

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