A plan by the U.S. government to require some foreign travelers to provide their social media IDs on key travel documents is drawing outrage.
People who responded to the government’s request for comment about the proposal spared little in their criticisms. They call it “ludicrous,” an “all-around bad idea,” “blatant overreach,” “desperate, paranoid heavy-handedness,” “preposterous,” “appalling,” and “un-American.”
But the feds are most serious about it.
The plan affects people traveling from “visa waiver” countries to the U.S., where a visa is not required. This includes most of Europe, Singapore, Chile, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand -- 38 countries in total.
Travelers will be asked to provide their Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, and whatever other social ID you can imagine to U.S. authorities. It’s technically an “optional” request, but since it’s the government asking, critics believe travelers will fear consequences if they ignore it. Business and pleasure travelers are affected, too.
People who are traveling from a country where a visa is required, such as India or China, get a security vetting when they apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate. This proposal doesn’t apply to them. But the U.S. is attempting to deepen its checks of people coming from countries such as the U.K., France, Iceland and Italy, among others, where the travel rules aren’t as rigorous.
The government “sees the visa waiver program as easier to abuse, from a security standpoint, than regular visa processes because there is no Department of State consular review of the application," said Ian Macdonald, an immigration attorney at Greenberg Traurig in Atlanta.
Macdonald, in an interview, doubts the social media ID data gathering will help security. The requirement has no teeth, and even if it was mandatory people who “have something to hide are probably going to be more sophisticated and at least have fake accounts. I don’t see it improving security that much, if any,” he said.
Reaction is harsh. The U.S. period for comments about the new rule closed Monday. Nearly 800 responded. The rule was called “a grave invasion of privacy,” “1984,” or “It’s none of your business.”
Nobody, it seemed, has anything nice to say about the Obama administraion proposal.
The administration’s social media ID proposal follows adoption by Congress of the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, which tightened some travel rules. The government says the social media ID request is being made to meet the law’s requirements.
“Such a request for information lends itself to potential abuse and harassment by CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officers who disagree with an individual’s political leanings, particularly in light of the unprecedented endorsement of Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, by the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 16,500 border patrol agents,” wrote Jose Magana-Salgado, managing policy attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
The social ID rule is broadly opposed by privacy groups, who asked whether social media postings might be grounds to deny someone U.S. entry. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, among its many objections, said the proposal “does not state what standards” it will use to evaluate social media posts.
“I think there is concern people could be denied (entry) for reasons that are not necessarily warranted," said Betsy Lawrence, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, liaison director, in an interview. “It sort of feels a little bit like a fishing expedition."
Some 30 groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Association and the Committee to Protect Journalists, submitted a letter calling the plan “highly invasive,” and “ineffective.”
Business travelers coming into the U.S. on a visa waiver for business can do many of the same things a visitor on a B-1 business visitor visa can do, such as attend conferences and consult with U.S. colleagues.
The social media questions will come on the ESTA form (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), a pre-clearance process in lieu of a visa. But the I-94 form that travelers fill out on arrival may ask a similar question.