Social Media Screening Will Now Affect Nearly All U.S. Visa Applicants

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U.S. State Department requests for some visa applicants to hand over information related to their various social media accounts will now extend to nearly all applicants, including those traveling to the U.S. for education or business, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

The wider application of the Trump administration policy to request information that includes an individual’s social media history-which was proposed last year -may affect as many as 15 million immigrant and nonimmigrant applicants, according to the Associated Press. Prior to the new policy, an estimated 65,000 were subject to the additional screening process.

That additional screening requires that foreigners share their past social media usernames, email addresses, phone numbers, and international travel dating back five years. They are also asked whether they have been deported and whether their family members have ties to terrorist groups, the Associated Press said. The department last year said it didn’t plan to ask most diplomats or official applicants for that information, according to Reuters at the time.

In a statement last year, Director of the ACLU National Security Project Hina Shamsi called the collection of visa applicants’ social media information “yet another ineffective and deeply problematic Trump administration plan.”

“It will infringe on the rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens by chilling freedom of speech and association, particularly because people will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official,” Shamsi said. “We’re also concerned about how the Trump administration defines the vague and overbroad term ‘terrorist activities’ because it is inherently political and can be used to discriminate against immigrants who have done nothing wrong.”

The New York Times reported that the new policy was put into effect on Friday. The State Department did not immediately return a request for comment about the change but was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that “every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening.”

“We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States,” the department added.

Per the Times, Shamsi on Sunday called the move “a dangerous and problematic proposal, which does nothing to protect security concerns but raises significant privacy concerns and First Amendment issues for citizens and immigrants.”