The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) devised a new rule in June this year for foreign travelers wishing to visit the US.
According to the new rule, foreign travelers are required to give their social media account details to US Immigration authorities.
A US government official stated that foreign travelers in the country who want to travel on the visa waiver program will have the option of entering information about their “online presence.”
This new form of data collection happens to arrive just one month before the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, who on Wednesday seemingly renewed his call for a ban on Muslims entering the US following the bus attack in Berlin.
Just yesterday, it was also revealed that data-mining firm Palantir, which was co-founded by Trump advisor Peter Thiel, has worked with the US Customs and Border Protection to track immigrants and foreign travelers using a wide variety of data gleaned from law enforcement databases. Social media account information could aid in this process.
This would include details of their accounts on Facebook and Twitter.
It’s unclear if the information collected can be immediately used to deny travelers entry into the US.
However, the express purpose of the collection is to identify individuals with ties to terrorist groups.
As it stands today, Customs and Border Protection says it will not deny entry to those that refuse to submit any social media information.
Still, the implementation of such a controversial policy has enraged human rights activists and technology companies.
Members of both communities expressed concern when the policy was first proposed this past summer.
At the time, industry lobbying group the Internet Association, which represents companies like Facebook and Google, joined with the ACLU to condemn the proposal for its potential free speech and privacy violations.
It must be noted that a visa waiver program allows foreign travelers to visit the United States for business or tourism purposes for a period of 90 days or less. This program doesn’t require obtaining the visa first.
Politico reports that the new rule has been devised by the DHS to identify terrorists trying to enter the country as tourists.
According to a spokesperson of the DHS, this move will help the department in identifying “potential threats.”
This proposal states that the data which applicant opt to share will be used “for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information.”
However, privacy campaigners haven’t been so happy with the recent changes in immigration rules and the ESTA form.
The reason is that with this new rule, the travelers will mandatorily have to fill up the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) drop down menu that will give them the option to enter their social media details on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+.
DHS has previously claimed that the department won’t allow travelers to enter the US unless they reveal their social media account details.
This is going to be a tough ask for travelers since revealing crucial details about private social media accounts is quite difficult as it will definitely expose their personal data to authorities.
It must be noted that the US issues 10 million visas approximately and only in 2015, the country was visited by about 77.5 million tourists.
The US in not the only country to go through users personal data at the airport, in fact, officials at Ben Gurion airport of Israel also go through tourists’ email accounts by demanding their login details and accept or deny entry on the basis of content present in their email.