U.S. Visitors, Immigrants Could Be Required To Reveal Social Media Identities

The federal government issued a proposal that would allow it to collect all social media identities from immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants. The proposal is now open to public comments for the next 60 days and will require approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Social Media Vetting

The U.S. government’s justification for this new proposal is that it wants to do more “vetting” of visa applicants before they are allowed in the country. The Department of Homeland Security admitted in 2015 that it was using social media to vet U.S. visitors, but that there were legal limits in its social media investigations.

In 2016, the federal government proposed for the first time to add a line to forms that need to be filled out by all visitors to the U.S. that would ask them to “voluntarily” reveal their social media identities. However, this proposal never had the feeling of being too optional for visitors. If the border agents feel that you’re purposely trying to hide some information, then they may deny you entry.

In 2017, the federal government came with an even more extreme proposal, that would require visitors to reveal their social media passwords to border agents. Refusing to do so would potentially result in an entry rejection by the border agents.

New Social Media Proposal

The government seems to have given up on that password sharing idea for now, but its new proposal would still require new visitors to the U.S. and immigrant visa applicants to reveal all of their social media identities used in the past five years. If it goes into effect, the proposal will affect over 14 million people annually.

The government estimates that it will get 14 million social media identity responses per year, and that it would take border agents 21 million hours annually to analyze all of them, with an average of 90 minutes per requested social media identity.

Public Comments Open For 60 Days

The government published this new proposal in the Federal Register today, which means the public now has 60 days to comment on this issue. The government is asking for comments for the following reasons:

Evaluate whether the proposed information collection is necessary for the proper functions of the Department.Evaluate the accuracy of our estimate of the time and cost burden for this proposed collection, including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used.Enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected.Minimize the reporting burden on those who are to respond, including the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of information technology.

To comment, you can go to Regulations.gov and search for the document by using “Docket Number: DOS-2018-0002” in the search bar. You’ll then see a Comment now button. Click the button and complete your submission.

After the 60 day public comment period expires, the OMB will need to either approve or reject this proposal.

Civil Rights Groups Condemn The Proposal

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) EFF and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have argued before against this type of policy. The EFF said last fall about a similar proposal that:

These proposals threaten the digital privacy and freedom of expression of innocent foreign travelers, and the many U.S. citizens who communicate with them. Moreover, the government has not shown that such information collection will be effective at combating terrorism.

The ACLU also noted the following in response to a similar proposal from the federal government, from last year:

Indeed, even providing information about the existence of one’s social media accounts can eviscerate the right to speak anonymously online and may chill people from creating accounts using pseudonyms, which is a common tactic used by victims of domestic violence or whistleblowers who fear retaliation.

Given what’s been happening with Facebook over the past two weeks, if this proposal passes it could become yet another reason for people to start quitting social media altogether. It’s not just Facebook, advertisers, and companies working for political campaigns that want all of your social media information.

Governments seem to have become increasingly interested in all the information you store on social media accounts, too. This means that social media accounts have become more than just harmless fun with friends on the internet. They’ve essentially become detailed dossiers we’ve been building on ourselves for more than a decade, and now they’re ripe for the picking by interested government agencies.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • AnimeMania
    What does "reveal all of their social media identities used in the past five years." Without a definition of "Social Media" this could mean almost anything, your "PornHub" account, Tom's Hardware, Game of Thrones chatroom, Cat Lovers blog, Amazon reviews, MetroHealth Insurance login, Steam account, etc. By the time you list every website that you, your spouse and 2 kids have ever logged into and the U.S. government checks it out and gives you permission to visit Disneyland, your kids are too "old" to want to go. It seems like it is a way to keep certain people or people from certain countries from entering the U.S.
  • CKKwan
    This confirmed that Facebook is supported and used by NSA as a tool. No wonder......
  • Raymond_92
    Good, this is a great way of filtering out terrorists and extremists while letting ordinary people through.

    Many extremists continue to promote violence over Twitter, the government should 100% be investigating these people's Social Media accounts.

    The only nonsense here is that it's "Voluntary" and that they rely on them to provide it. Tapping their lines once they're in the country until they become a legal citizen is a better way of monitoring this and still protecting the rights of U.S. Citizens.

    People like the New York Truck attacker used social media extensively to promote and plan their terrorist acts.


    "Our gaze naturally turns, then, to the source of his radicalization, to where he so easily found the ISIS material: Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube."


    People pushing such content shouldn't be allowed in the U.S., and if they are they should be rounded up and executed for planning to commit terrorism.

    People from Terror ridden countries and countries without strong immigration policies shouldn't be "asked" to be provide such details - they should always without question be monitored.

    The only flaw in this is the optional component.
  • p.genesis
    This will send the right message to people that you cannot spew hatred for a nation and her people on social media, criticize the nation's government, her leaders and her culture and then show up at the embassy hoping for a visa. If a person is so filled with loathing against a certain country - not just the USA - but have no shame in desiring to visit or worse, migrate there, it is the right of that sovereign republic to deny a visa to that person. I am not an American but I am disgusted with people who love the American dream but hate her people. Such hypocrisy should not be tolerated just because it is 'free speech.' Try saying bad things about China on social media and show up for a visa. We keep rewarding the rebellious and punishing the penitent. About time the USA chose to put an end to this madness.
  • lsatenstein
    Tourism is a major industry in the USA. Invasion of privacy is not a right. As a Canadian, I won't be travelling to the USA on a two week vacation if this law goes into effect. If this scrutiny goes into effect, the USA will be out $2500 dollars of vacation dollars for a vacation that I will take elsewhere.
  • lsatenstein
    Why do I see the current administration as acting as if all hundreds of thousands of visitors and immigrants are criminals or illegals. Why does the current administration promote fear?

    I usually take in a trade show or two, and buy US manufactured products. Now looking at trade shows outside of the USA. (I may still be purchasing American products at the alternative shows).
  • leoscott
    20845478 said:
    Tourism is a major industry in the USA. Invasion of privacy is not a right. As a Canadian, I won't be travelling to the USA on a two week vacation if this law goes into effect. If this scrutiny goes into effect, the USA will be out $2500 dollars of vacation dollars for a vacation that I will take elsewhere.

    Not a problem.
  • leoscott
    20845478 said:
    Tourism is a major industry in the USA. Invasion of privacy is not a right. As a Canadian, I won't be travelling to the USA on a two week vacation if this law goes into effect. If this scrutiny goes into effect, the USA will be out $2500 dollars of vacation dollars for a vacation that I will take elsewhere.

    It would be nice if you would look at recent history around why they might want to do this. in 2015 Tashfeen Malik, allowed in the US on a fiancée VISA from Pakistan, and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, killed 14 co-workers in San Bernardino, California. It was a terrorist attack. Tashfeen was found to have terror related postings on one of her social media accounts in the subsequent investigation. Considering the number of VISAs the US allows in and the number of people available to check their social media (multiply the amount of effort by the likely quantity of each applicant's social media accounts) it is highly unlikely they will be checking EVERYONE's social media. A REASONABLE person would assume it will be random and targeted.
    So you have to ask yourself would you be suspicious to a US immigration official?
  • phonea21
    "I won't go to the U.S. because they want to stop terrorists"

    Yeah smart move we don't want morons coming to visit anyways.
  • daglesj
    It's not about terrorism. It's about general control over the world population. The 1% has run the numbers. They know things are going to get bad, real bad and they need to be able to quell any trouble before it gets too serious.

    They want to keep their money and control. The last thing they want is enough folks in the West to wake up one morning and say "This ain't working for me anymore!" like they did in Eastern Europe in the early 90's.

    This is just another tool to help weed out the future dissenters and popular leaders. They need to keep us at heel.

    As for tourism...yeah it does have an effect. We used to go to the USA quite often for holidays. We now havent been to the US since 2003 and refuse to. Canada now gets around $12000 every two years from us. It all adds up.

    Thanks Canada! (the beer is better there too)