Uncle Sam wants to read your tweets, check out your Instagram, log your email addresses before you enter the Land of the Free on a visa
Bet ya regret that ironic neverjihaditsogood89 at hotmail.com addy now, huh?
Here comes the money
Around the same time, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said it would spend $100m on a new system to monitor social media activity of visitors. The proposal was again met with fierce opposition.
Since then, the issue has gone quiet, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to sue the US government in January this year in an effort to find out what was going on.
And then, on Sunday, the New York Times was tipped off that the requirement for visa applicants to supply details of any social media accounts they have used in the past five years had already become official State Department policy, two days earlier.
The US government has not officially confirmed, nor denied, that the policy is now in place. And there are almost no details surrounding the program. We have sent a detailed list of questions to the State Department and will update this story if we get a response.
In reality, the new requirement is likely to prove similar to the one that requires visitors to list all the countries they have visited in the past five years – something that is generally a complete waste of everyone's time but can occasionally prove useful to US officials investigating a specific individual.
After all, while terrorists are often stupid - witness the shoe bomber who forgot to bring an lighter capable of setting it off - they aren't likely to tweet out that they are about to carry out an act of terrorism.
But, since it is the applicant's time that is taken up providing the information, there is little internal pushback within the US government to requesting ever increasing amounts of information from applicants.
But the fact that the State Department and Homeland Security have been so secretive about the program and continue to fail to provide even the most basic information about it, has only heightened concerns.
Combined with the aggressive and increasingly xenophobic comments coming from the White House, many are concerned that what should be a useful vetting tool that is only applied in a very small number of cases could become a broader tool to stifle dissent and exclude legitimate visitors from entering the country. ®
Updated to add
A spokesperson for the US government's State Department has been in touch with more information after we published this article. On the subject of why this info is needed, and what will happen to it, we were told:
Consular officers would only use this information to determine the applicant’s eligibility for a visa under existing US law. The same safeguards and confidentiality provisions that already protect a visa applicant’s personal information also apply to social media identifiers and all other newly collected information related to a visa application or adjudication.
Consular officers will not request user passwords. Further, the Department limits its collection to information relevant to a visa adjudication. In accordance with US law, information collected in the nonimmigrant or immigrant visa application or adjudication process is considered confidential and may be used only for certain purposes expressly authorized by law, including the formulation, amendment, administration, or enforcement of US laws.
And what happens if you refuse to hand these details over?
Failure to provide accurate and truthful responses in a visa application may result in denial of the visa by a consular officer. In the case of an applicant who has used any of the social media platforms listed on the visa application in the preceding five years, the associated social media identifier would be required on the visa application form. Visa applicants who have never used social media will not be refused on the basis of failing to provide a social media identifier.
And, yes, other agencies, such as the FBI and NSA, will get to peek at your social media profiles, if they need to:
The Department works closely with partner agencies in the US government to identify threats to US security, and to ensure that consular officers can review all relevant information about an applicant’s eligibility for a US visa when adjudicating a case. These interagency consultations are explained in great detail in the System of Records Notice that outlines the routine uses and users of visa records. This is available at: federalregister.gov