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 would include details of their accounts on Facebook and Twitter.
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.” BBC reported that the new changes will affect ESTA and Form I-94W applications and the proposal was added to the Federal Register by the DHS-associated Customs and Border Protection (CBP) department. 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.