Dating back to an emergency request placed by the State Department in early May, the social media accounts of travelers looking to acquire a US visa are now subject to US consular scrutiny.
US Consul employees reviewing applicants may have asked for their social media information in the past, but now the practice is standard. The policy was implemented on May 23, but didn’t glean public attention until Reuters reported it last week.
The policy derives from the belief that social media accounts represent crucial lines of communication between terrorists that intelligence officials have failed to explore in the past. In March, after a terrorist truck drove into a crowd around British Parliament, officials there vowed to meet with Google, Facebook, and Twitter, so as to prevent the attacks at their roots. Relatives of the victims of the San Bernardino terrorist attacks also sued tech companies for not doing more to combat online terrorist activity.
On the other side of the coin, however, are issues of privacy and discrimination. Experts like Reaz Jafri worry at the myriad ways the limitless information on social media can be interpreted: “A lot of people have opinions on what’s been going on in this country, but it doesn’t mean they hate America. If someone said ‘America sucks’ online two years ago, does that mean they can’t get a visa to come here?”
Furthermore there are practical issues of what terrorists are allowing to be viewed online anyway. Jafri notes that travelers with ill intentions, “aren’t going to give you the email where they’re plotting.”
Nonetheless, the policy reflects a shift by the Trump Administration to less hardline forms of national security improvement as their travel ban continues to be held up by the courts.
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