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America now requires visa applicants to provide details of online presence

America now requires visa applicants to provide details of online presence

America has controversially introduced a new system whereby visa applicants must provide details of their social media accounts before they are allowed into the country. Although unclear at the moment it seems you will be required to provide URLs, handles of social media accounts used in the last five years as well as email addresses.

The new information must be declared on the DS-160 application form which are completed for non-permanent visas to stay and work in the United States.

We already request certain contact information, travel history, family member information and previous addresses from all visa applicants. We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect US citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.

- Press release: State Department, US government

As far as can be seen, tourists should not be affected. Tourists coming to America usually involves the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) scheme which allows foreigners from a list of 38 countries to visit for 90 days. However, since December at least some ESTA applicants have been asked to provide online handles, though it is currently not mandatory.

Those not from the list of 38 countries or who had traveled to the seven proscribed countries, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen will be required to apply for a visa and provide their social media data. This is expected to impact over 14 million people annually.

The request for social media handles was actually introduced during the Obama administration but at the time was voluntary. This has now become compulsory under Donald Trump’s presidency.

Back in 2017 the then-head of Homeland Security, John Kelly, told Congress he wanted to turn the voluntary requirement into a compulsory one. He even suggested that people should hand over their passports so officials could log into their accounts. At the time he told a House Committee, ‘we want to say what kind of sites do you visit and give us your passwords, so we can see what they do.’

These proposals met with widespread criticism from a range of groups including privacy advocates and notably Homeland Security’s own inspector general. Certain pilot studies were commissioned that appeared to show social media profiling was ineffective.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump has now signed an executive order asking key officials to put together a ‘uniform baseline for screening and vetting standards and procedures,’ pushing ahead with the controversial scheme.

Despite all this, there is currently a startling lack of detail over how exactly the policy will be enforced and how the data gathered will be used. It is also unclear if the policy will be eventually extended to permanent residents and how the government will store the data or for how long.

Image: Nataraj Munoli

TG Bamford author photo


A veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.
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