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US Customs To Request Social Media Data For Passengers

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Fresh privacy concern? US Customs proposes to screen social media profiles of travellers to the United States

The United States is proposing to ask travellers entering the country via the Visa Waiver Program to to reveal their social media profiles.

The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of certain countries (including the United Kingdom) to visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa.

But the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has submitted a proposal that would amend the application forms (Esta and I-94W) for these travellers, to ask them to voluntarily disclose their social media accounts. The forms will reportedly not ask for passwords, however.

Social Profile

The US Customs and Border Protection is part of the DHS, and it said the social media information would give it extra investigative tools, according to the New York Times.

“Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity,” the border agency said.

AirbusIt is understood the proposal, which comes after the US Congress passed legislation last year to add restrictions to the Visa Waiver Program, is in response to the Paris terrorist attacks. The proposal is now currently awaiting public comment before it is advanced. It is not certain at this stage whether the proposal will eventually become law.

At present the US Customs and Border Protection does not routinely examine social media accounts of applicants for visas or immigration, but it does have certain criteria under which social media accounts can be examined in order to vet passengers.

There are also reportedly four pilot projects underway at the department to examine the use of social media among applicants for immigration benefits.

Privacy Debate

The development comes amid a growing debate about people’s right to privacy, versus law enforcement requests for greater surveillance powers. Last week for example the US Senate voted down legislation intended to loosen restrictions on the FBI when gathering digital and telephone data on American citizens.

Also last week the EU and the US agreed to changes to Safe Harbour 2.0 (or Privacy Shield), after an initial agreement had been rejected by European Watchdogs for not being robust enough.

The decision by British voters to exit the European Union however, has meant that Britain will have to develop its own legislation to protect its citizen’s data when it is transferred to the United States.

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