Deep Background

Foreign visitors’ online activities get screened

The Department of Homeland Security has added questions  to the official forms given to some U.S.-bound foreign visitors asking about their “online presence,”  including the social-media platforms they use and their usernames.  Although the paper and electronic forms don’t require that the applicants supply their online passwords, some civil-rights groups critical of the government action say the travelers’ desire to be allowed into the country will prompt many to volunteer such data.  DHS’s Customs and Border Protection proposed the additional language in June 2016, and approved it in September.  Officials said in the Federal Register that the new questions about social-media identifiers should be added to “provide DHS/CBP greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections.”  The action has prompted opposition from a range of civil-liberties organizations including the ACLU.  A coalition of 28 groups   submitted a statement to Homeland Security saying the program “would invade individual privacy and imperil freedom of expression while being ineffective and prohibitively expensive to implement and maintain.”  Jonathan Corbett, a technology expert and civil rights advocate, posed a series of rhetorical questions in an essay opposing the action:  “Do I need to think back to the MySpace account that I created in 2003 and have not used since 2006?  If I have a username for a chat room or message board, does that count?  What about Tinder?  Or perhaps I use the popular dating app for gay men known as Grindr.  Do you think it’s reasonable that I would then need to indirectly disclose my sexual preference as a condition of entering this country?”

Subscribe to our Newsletter