U.S. Tourists Will Be Required To Turn Over Their Social Media History

The State Department will unveil new rules on Friday requiring most visitors or immigrants to the United States to turn over their recent social media histories, in accordance with one of President Trump's key national security enhancements contained in his "extreme vetting" executive order.

In addition, travelers would be required to provide previous phone numbers, email addresses and a history of international travel from the preceding five years - as well as disclose any immigration problems they've had anywhere in the world, or any potential family ties to terrorism, according to the Washington Times

Moreover, people from countries where female genital mutilation is common practice would be directed to a website to ensure that they know the practice is illegal in the United States.

The Friday publication will begin a "comment period" before the government finalizes the policies.

This upgrade to visa vetting is long overdue, and it’s appropriate to apply it to everyone seeking entry, because terrorism is a worldwide problem. The aim is to try to weed out people with radical or dangerous views,” said Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies - who called the effort to discourage female genital mutilation "innovative." 

"The message needs to be sent that ‘we don’t do that here,’ " she said.

Vaughan also says the State Department should also request information on whether female travelers intend to enter the United States in order to give birth - a practice known as "birth tourism" in which women visit the U.S. so that their child born on American soil is a U.S. citizen. 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has entertained plans to track the social media accounts of immigrants entering the country, however the State Department's Friday proposal would apply to tourists and others entering the country on temporary visas. In all, some 14 million people would be affected by the request for information, according to the department.

Privacy concerns

The Washington Times reports that Dan Crocetti, a former senior fraud investigator for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said it makes sense to collect the information — but said officers need to stay within privacy rules, too.

He said in the immigration context, looking at social media can help an adjudicator assess whether the story the applicant is telling for applying for a benefit rings true — such as in the case of a marriage petition.

But Mr. Crocetti said someone’s refusal to turn over the passwords or other non-public social media information can’t be used on its own to deny approval.

 “The use of social media is a wrench in their tool box. It’s not that you use that same wrench for everything you do, but it’s a wrench, it’s a different sized tool, and you have use that selectively,” he said.

The State Department currently collects information about travel history and family connections, however the new proposal will seek to collect prior passport numbers, information about family members and a longer history of past travel, employment and contact information. 

Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity,” said the State Department.