New proposals could gather the social media information of the 14.7 million visa applicants to the United States each year
Social media information will be examined as part of a visa application to enter the United States, according to new proposals from the state department. If approved, this means the US will be able to collect the social media profiles of the 14.7 million people who enter the country every year.
Under the proposals, almost all visa applicants will be required to submit every profile used in the past five years. These will be used to vet and identify the applicant.
The measures are still to be approved the office of management and budget, part of the executive office at the White House.
Officials will also ask applicants for five years of telephone numbers, email addresses and their international travel history, and whether they have been deported or removed from any country.
Donald Trump, president of the United States, called for “extreme vetting” of immigrants on the campaign trail, pledging to crack down on illegal immigration for security reasons.
He then claimed that he had ordered the Department of Homeland Security to increase screening following a truck attack that killed eight people in New York last autumn.
The accused, Sayfullo Saipov, 29, an Uzbek who entered the country legally in 2010, has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of murder, 12 counts of attempted murder, one count of providing material support to Islamic State and one count of violence and destruction of a motor vehicle resulting in death.
The move to collect reams of data from people hoping to enter the United States has been criticised by human rights and civil liberties organisations. They say there is no evidence to suggest it is effective or fair, and that there has been no guidance published to show how the information may be used.
They hold concerns that the information gathered may be shared across government agencies, and could lead to a chilling effect over what people feel free to say online.
Applicants will also be asked to declare whether family members have been involved in “terrorist activities”.
Currently, American consular officials are able to ask for social media identifiers only when they determine “that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting”, the Guardian reported.
This applied only to those “who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities”.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, said: “This attempt to collect a massive amount of information on the social media activity of millions of visa applicants is yet another ineffective and deeply problematic Trump administration plan.
“It will infringe on the rights of immigrants and US citizens by chilling freedom of speech and association, particularly because people will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official.
“We’re also concerned about how the Trump administration defines the vague and overbroad term ‘terrorist activities’ because it is inherently political and can be used to discriminate against immigrants who have done nothing wrong.
“There is a real risk that social media vetting will unfairly target immigrants and travellers from Muslim-majority countries for discriminatory visa denials, without doing anything to protect national security.”
The proposals were published in the Federal Register on 30 March, with a notice stating that the public has 60 days to comment.