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The U.S. May Soon Ask Foreign Visitors for Their Social Media Accounts

Jun 29, 2016

If the Department of Homeland Security has its way, foreign visitors to the U.S. may soon be asked to provide information on their social media accounts when they arrive.

In a notice published in the Federal Register last week, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) division of the DHS said that it wanted to add a line to Form I-94W, which is the form used by people who enter the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program that lets people from certain countries visit the U.S. for 90 days without a visa. The line would say, “Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.”

According to the DHS, the data would help it screen people for ties to terrorism:

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.

Not everyone was impressed by the DHS's request, in large part because providing the information is voluntary—not compulsory.

“What terrorist is going to give our government permission to see their radical jihadist rants on social media? The only people who will share that information are those with nothing to hide," Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) said in a statement. "Voluntary disclosure won’t keep anyone safe. If we want to win on the digital battlefield, mandatory screening is required.”

Buchanan also called the Customs and Border Protection idea “lame.”

Buchanan is one of several U.S. lawmakers who've introduced bills requiring visitors to provide social media account information. His proposed Social Media Screening For Terrorists Act requires the secretary of Homeland Security to vet all public records—including Facebook and other social media platforms—before admitting foreign travelers.

The DHS proposal is open for public comment until August 22.

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