US collects social media handles from select visitors

Visitors to the U.S. under a visa waiver program are being asked by the Department of Homeland Security for information on their social media accounts, a plan that had drawn criticism from civil rights groups for its potential encroachment on privacy.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection unit of the DHS asked for written comments earlier this year on its proposal that would add to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and to a form called I-94W the following entry: “Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier,” which visitors can fill optionally.

The agency said in June that collecting social media data would provide additional tools to “enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections.”

Although providing the information on social media presence is listed as optional, critics of the plan have said that failure to fill the information by a visitor could also be interpreted as something that requires scrutiny by the authorities.

The current ESTA form asks for information on the “Provider/Platform,” and for the user-name, handle, screen-name or other identifier associated with the social media profile. Continue reading

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