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US visitors must hand over Twitter, Facebook handles by law – newbie Rep starts ball rolling

Rookie's bill targets visa applicants, may never happen

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A newbie congressman has floated his first ever US law bill – one that demands visitors to America hand over URLs to their social network accounts.

House Rep Jim Banks (R-IN) says his proposed rules – dubbed the Visa Investigation and Social Media Act (VISA) of 2017 – require visa applicants to provide their social media handles to immigration officials.

Right now, at the US border you can be asked to cough up your usernames by border officers. You don't have to reveal your public profiles, of course. However, if you're a non-US citizen, border agents don't have to let you in, either. Your devices can be seized and checked, and you can be put on a flight back, if you don't cooperate.

Banks' proposed law appears to end any uncertainty over whether or not non-citizens will have their online personas vetted: if the bill is passed, visa applicants will be required to disclose their online account names so they can be scrutinized for any unwanted behavior. This includes people who apply for tourist visas. For holidayers on visa-waiver programs – such as Brits arriving with ESTA passes – revealing your social media accounts is and will remain optional, but again, being allowed into the country is optional, too.

"We must have confidence that those entering our country do not intend us harm," Banks said on Thursday. "Directing Homeland Security to review visa applicants' social media before granting them access to our country is common sense. Employers vet job candidates this way, and I think it's time we do the same for visa applicants."

Banks did not say how his bill would prevent hopefuls from deleting or simply not listing any accounts that may be unfavorable. This bill is Banks' very first attempt at crafting legislation, as the congressman was eager to point out. That also means it's unlikely to go anywhere, and will probably be quietly discarded by Congress.

In addition to forcing every visa applicant to hand over their social media footprint, the bill will mandate that:

  • The DHS personally interviews every visa applicant over the age of 11.
  • A "fraud prevention check" be completed for each applicant's documentation.
  • The applicant provides an English translation of all documents.

El Reg has asked whether Irish, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and UK applicants will need to translate their documents to US English, but we have yet to hear back at the time of publication. You may want to take out your extra "U's" and add a few "Z's" just to be sure.

The bill also would require that a DHS employee be stationed at any consulate or embassy that issues visas to the US. Separately, the federal government is way ahead of Banks. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly wants to extract online account passwords from visitors from certain countries – particularly some Muslim-majority nations – that have drawn the White House's ire. ®

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