The U.S. government has started asking some foreign visitors about their social media accounts when they arrive. The change was first floated over the summer, and advocates for civil liberties cried foul, saying the policy would unfairly target Arab and Muslim visitors, as Politico reported:
In a letter sent in August, the ACLU, Center for Democracy and Technology charged it posed immense privacy risks, given that social media accounts serve as “gateways into an enormous amount of [users’] online expression and associations, which can reflect highly sensitive information about that person’s opinions, beliefs, identity and community.” The groups also predicted the burden would “fall hardest on Arab and Muslim communities, whose usernames, posts, contacts and social networks will be exposed to intense scrutiny.”
Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection say the change will help them “identify potential threats.” The ACLU says the government has a right to collect some information, but few rules are in place to make sure their power isn’t abused.
“There are very few rules about how that information is being collected, maintained [and] disseminated to other agencies, and there are no guidelines about limiting the government’s use of that information,” Michael W. Macleod-Ball, chief of staff for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office, told Politico.
As The Guardian notes, “collecting social media accounts for all visitors could produce one of the largest government-controlled databases of its kind almost overnight.”
Handing over social media information is currently voluntary, and in the past the agency has said it won’t impact whether someone can get into the country. Even so, groups that oppose the change say they’re concerned many visitors won’t understand it’s voluntary or will worry about raising suspicion if they don’t hand over their social media profiles. Currently, only visitors applying for visa-waivers are being asked to provide their social media information.