Bring me your huddled masses – and their media handles

On 1 June, the United States began requiring applicants for a non-resident visa to provide all of their social media identities for the past five years. If you do not and they catch you, you will be refused entry to the country. Passwords are not required, but then that is not much of a barrier to the NSA. ESTA applicants are not included so holidaymakers can relax – for the moment, but if this move is successful it is likely that the trend will continue. If it does, access to this sort of information will give the United States tremendous power as anonymity has always been one of the strengths (and curses) of the internet. The situation will get worse if the range of internet activity examined becomes even wider.

The legality of the move is being questioned. Normally it would require clearance under the Administrative Procedures Act. But in this case the State Department has claimed that it has the right to make the change under the foreign affairs exemption, a rather obscure get out clause. At some point, it is likely that this new rule will be challenged in the courts. However, with the current right-wing Supreme Court, the change is likely to be upheld if the case makes it that far.

Critics have pointed out that if you do not admit anything on this section of the form it is unlikely that you will be caught out. Proving that you are “Wannamiffy564” on Twitter would take just too much time and effort. On the other hand, if you answer “none” to all of the platforms then immigration may pull you in on the grounds that almost no-one can get by these days without a presence at least somewhere in social media. It could make for a very uncomfortable interview.

The United States already fingerprints all visitors as if they were common criminals and the country is well known for the open hostility of its immigration officers. But this new change represents a considerable human rights intrusion. The worrying point is that where the US leads, other nations often follow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *