Rights groups decry plan to inspect social media of US-bound tourists
It’s a "surveillance program clothed as a customs administration mechanism."
8/22/2016, 6:54 PM
Calling it "highly invasive" and "ineffective," more than two dozen rights groups urged the US Department of Homeland Security on Monday to scrap a proposal asking the millions of tourists entering the country each year to reveal their "online presence," such as social media identities. The government announced in June that it wanted to implement the plan to give the DHS "clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections."
A coalition of 28 groups are not in favor. "This program would invade individual privacy and imperil freedom of expression while being ineffective and prohibitively expensive to implement and maintain," the organizations, led by the Center for Democracy & Technology, wrote the government.
The plan adds a line to the paper form and the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application that US-bound visitors must fill out if they don’t have a visa and plan on staying for up to 90 days for vacation, business, or other affairs. The agency says travelers coming to the US under the Visa Waiver Program won’t be forced to disclose their social media handles. The authorities said it was "optional." However, as we all know, leaving it blank could raise red flags.
This is what will be asked: "Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier." This field doesn’t call for additional information such as passwords.
According to the coalition:
DHS collection of online identity information is an intelligence surveillance program clothed as a customs administration mechanism. All of the information collected through ESTA is shared, in bulk, with U.S. intelligence agencies and can be used to seed more intelligence surveillance unrelated to the applicant’s eligibility for a visa waiver. It is likely to be used to augment existing lists and databases for tracking persons of interest to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, with consequences for innocent individuals swept up in those programs. And it could be used to generate data requests from social media providers, including requests for users’ account activity and private communications.
The 28 groups are: Access Now; Advocacy for Principled Action in Government; American Civil Liberties Union; American Immigration Lawyers Association; American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; Americans for Immigrant Justice; Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC; Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation; Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles; Center for Democracy & Technology; Committee to Protect Journalists; The Constitution Project; Consumer Action; Consumer Federation of America; Council on American-Islamic Relations; Demand Progress; Electronic Frontier Foundation; Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Immigrant Legal Resource Center; National Coalition Against Censorship; National Immigrant Justice Center; National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild; New America’s Open Technology Institute; Online Policy Group; Paradigm Initiative Nigeria; Restore The Fourth; TechFreedom; and Woodhull Foundation.
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