US visitors asked for social media identifiers at border

Business People Airport Terminal Travel Departure Concept

After ECJ ruled that the UK acted illegally in imposing a law obliging the collection of communication data from all citizens, the US is setting itself up for a dispute over invasion of people’s privacy. The Department of Homeland Security’s controversial proposal that certain visitors entering the country under a non-immigrant visa waiver program provide their social media identifiers has just been approved.

“Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case,” writes the Office of the Federal Register.

The request was initially made by the US Customer and Border Protection. Although this requirement is not compulsory, civil rights groups have complained that it invades privacy and could cast suspicion on visitors who simply refuse to fill in the information. In light of recent global events, human rights and civil liberties groups are also concerned that visitors from the Arab and Muslim communities might be prone to more thorough surveillance.

“This program would invade individual privacy and imperil freedom of expression while being ineffective and prohibitively expensive to implement and maintain,” American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy & Technology and Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a coalition letter opposing the proposal. “A person’s online identifiers are gateways into an enormous amount of their online expression and associations, which can reflect highly sensitive information about that person’s opinions, beliefs, identity, and community.”

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