To protect the United States against terrorism, the American government is now asking for handles and usernames from different social networks – both current and from the last five years – in order to complete the visa process.
Yes, this includes your Twitter handle, where you’re known as @yerbamatelover69.
Nearly 15 million people request visas to travel to the United States every year. As part of new legislation from the State Department released on March 30, travelers will now have to disclose all their usernames from different social networks. The government had already announced this reform last September for those who wish to reside in the US (on an immigration visa), which totals slightly more than 700,000 people annually.
The recent announcement expands the measure to include tourists, who represent nearly 14 million people per year. More than half a million Argentines fall into that group.
The majority of the mentioned social networks are American-based: Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, MySpace (who has MySpace in 2018?), Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine (which closed in 2016) and YouTube (which is only accessible via a Google Account… So what’s the point of asking for it?). The Chinese networks Douban, QQ, Sina Weibo, Tencent, Weibo, and Youku are also included, as well as the Russian VK, the Belgian Twoo, and the Latvian Ask.fr.
Unsurprisingly, the current American administration is trying to reinforce the immigration and visa process; it was one of Donald Trump’s main campaign issues and he promised more control. However, citizens of the 40 countries who currently do not even need a visa to visit the US won’t be affected by the legislation, as well as foreign diplomats. These countries include long-time allies of the United States, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, France, and Japan.
This measure ruffled many feathers in the country of Uncle Sam, as it seems that the government wants to collect data on travelers just as any internet company is doing these days (Mark Zuckerberg, I’m looking at you). Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project declared that “this is an attempt to collect a massive quantity of information on the activities on social networks of millions of visa’s applicants in another non-efficient and highly problematic plan for Trump’s government,” and that the project “disrespected the right of immigrants and American citizens when it comes to freedom of expression and association, particularly because some people now need to ask themselves if an employee of the government could misinterpret what we post online.”
Last year, Facebook had already stated that it was completely against the reform, and “against any initiative to force any travelers at a border to provide any private information on their account, including their password.”
To justify the legislation, the State Department declared that the visa control was a “dynamic activity which needed to adapt itself,” and that the reform would help to “reinforce the process of confirming the travelers’ identities.” The control process is often seen as obsolete, between the long form (the famous DS-160) which takes 90 minutes to complete, with many questions ranging from your participation to any terrorist groups or your past as a possible member of Germany’s Third Reich.
John F. Kelly, who was at the time the secretary of National Security, had already declared to Congress last year that he wished to go further: “We want to enter their social networks with their passwords. If they don’t want to cooperate, they won’t enter [the country].”
For now, passwords are not required to enter in the United States, but if a law is passed, it would be an usual concept in the country historically known for the values of freedom and liberty.