ACLU Comment on State Department Notices Requiring Social Media Information From Visa Applicants

March 30, 2018 2:00 pm

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WASHINGTON — The State Department today published two notices that would require almost all visa applicants to submit social media information for review in order to travel or immigrate to the United States. Applicants would be required to report the identifiers for social media accounts that they have used in the previous five years. They would also be required to report whether certain family members have been involved in “terrorist activities.”

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 U.S. 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 travelers from Muslim-majority countries for discriminatory visa denials, without doing anything to protect national security.”

The ACLU has opposed previous attempts by federal government agencies to collect social media information from immigrants or travelers to the U.S. because these attempts will cause immigrants and their online contacts, such as U.S. citizen family, friends, acquaintances, and business associates to self-censor what they say online. The government has failed to disclose how this information — accurate or not — may be shared across government agencies and have consequences for individuals living in America, including U.S. citizens. There is also no evidence that such social media monitoring is effective or fair, especially in the absence of criteria to guide the use of social media information in the visa adjudication process.

Recently published documents from the Department of Homeland Security raise concerns that pilot programs attempting social media vetting have not been effective because they have lacked standards for implementation and have relied on flawed analysis methods.

The ACLU comment to State Department on supplemental questions for visa applicants is here:

ACLU letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection is online here:

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