US Wants to Make Social Media Data Collection Mandatory for All Visa Applicants

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The United States Department of State wants to make it mandatory for all foreigners to provide social media details when applying for a visa to enter the US.

US authorities want to modify three visa application forms. The changes made to the three forms would make it mandatory for all visa applicants —immigrant and non-immigrant— to provide all social media handles used in the last five years.

Diplomatic visas will be exempt from this new rule and some applicants might be asked to provide a list of emails and phone numbers used in the past five years, for additional vetting purposes.

The Department of State has not detailed the list of social media platforms for which it intends to collect account names but said the forms would include an optional section where applicants can enter usernames for online platforms not included in the main list.

Nearly 15 million visa applicants affected

The State Department is seeking Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval to modify three US visa forms —DS-156, DS-160, and DS-260.

These are visa forms that immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants must fill in and submit before being allowed to enter the US. US officials estimate 710,000 immigrant seekers and 14 million non-immigrant visa applicants will be affected.

US officials hope the new decision will help authorities track down users who shared terrorist propaganda content on social media. This is a strange approach, as there is nothing stopping persons with malicious intent from wiping accounts, giving officials the IDs of other (benign) persons, or creating new online personas just to enter the US. Failure to disclose a social media account may also be used to create a simpler mechanism to deport visa applicants once in the US or when they committed a crime.

A public consultation period of 60 days is now in effect, and US citizens can submit comments via the Federal Registrar [1, 2].

US “optionally” collecting social media details since 2016

US authorities have already been collecting social media account names from selected US visa applicants since 2016, but the process was optional.

The forms used since 2016 collected optional information about accounts on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

If approved, the new decision is bound to have an impact on the tourist industry, but may also reverberate among other countries, which may choose to implement similar practices.