News April 03, 2018 at 12:57 pm

U.S. plans to check 5-year social media history of applicants before issuing visas

Bridget Boakye | Contributor

Bridget Boakye April 03, 2018 at 12:57 pm

April 03, 2018 at 12:57 pm | News

The U.S. government just submitted a proposal to ask visitors for their social media accounts, and if approved, the measure would affect nearly 15 million immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants each year.

The move is part of a larger promise by U.S. President Donald Trump to use “extreme vetting” of foreigners to prevent terrorism.

Last May, a similar tougher vetting rule instructed consular officials to collect social media identifiers only when they determined “that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting”, a state department official said at the time.

The latest proposal is much broader; it asks everyone who wants to enter the country for five years’ worth of their social media history.

The State Department proposal filed on Thursday is expected to affect 710,000 immigrant visa applicants and 14 million non-immigrant visa applicants.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), America’s leading nonprofit group of civil liberties activists, expressed concern about last year’s measures, cautioning its implications on freedom of speech and association, especially for minorities and targeted groups.

“People will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.

“We’re also concerned about how the Trump administration defines the vague and over-broad term ‘terrorist activities’ because it is inherently political and can be used to discriminate against immigrants who have done nothing wrong,” she explained.

“There is a real risk that social media vetting will unfairly target immigrants and travelers from Muslim-majority countries for discriminatory visa denials, without doing anything to protect national security.”

Analysts already say that tourism in the U.S. has already experienced deep decline due to what they call, the “Trump Slump“, citing travel bans and increased security protocols.

Public scrutiny on social media has already been ripe but the public officially has 60 days to comment on the revised procedures before the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approves or rejects them.

The department says that if approved, applicants would also be required to submit five years of previously used telephone numbers, email addresses and their international travel history. Visa applicants will be asked if they have been deported or removed from any country and whether family members have been involved in terrorist activities as well.

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