Donald Trump's administration has put forward a proposal that requests that people who apply for a US visa undergo social media screenings in order to obtain the visa. According to the New York Times, nearly 14.7 million people apply for a US visa each year. Last year, it was announced that those applying for immigrant visas would be asked for their social media data. Originally, this would have affected about 710,000 people a year. The new rules proposed by the State Department will impact millions of people who wish to visit the US and apply for nonimmigrant visas.
The submitted proposal includes the following social media platforms based in the United States: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Vine, Twitter, and Youtube. However, the proposed plan includes social media platforms that are based in other countries. Some Chinese based social media channels are Douban, QQ, Tencent, Youku, and Weibo. Also on the list is the Russian social network VK and Latvia based questions and answers platform Ask.fm.
President Trump was extremely vocal about his feelings toward immigrants. He did promise to implement extreme vetting rules on people who wish to enter the United States. This past March, consular offices were instructed to be even tougher on applicants who seek to enter the country. With the new proposal, applicants will be expected to submit details of any social media account held in the past five years. The State Department said in a statement: "Maintaining robust screening standards for visa applicants is a dynamic practice that must adapt to emerging threats." The statement goes on to say "Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity."
Social Media Screenings for all travelers
Originally, social media screenings were directed at people seeking immigrant visas. However, the new proposal will impact millions of travelers who wish to come to the U.S. for business or pleasure. Category B visas are sought after by people in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
At the moment citizens of countries in the visa-waiver program can simply apply for the ESTA without providing their social media details. Some of the countries in the ESTA program are Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, France, and Germany. Holders of a diplomatic passport or official visas are likely to be excluded from social media screenings.
As it is to be expected, the proposal has been met with resistance and criticism. Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project expressed her concerns, "this attempt to collect a massive amount of information on the social media activity of millions of visa applicants is yet, another ineffective and deeply problematic Trump Administration plan." Shamsi also added that "We're also concerned about how the Trump administration defines the vague and over-broad term 'terrorist activities' because it is inherently political and can be used to discriminate against immigrants who have done nothing wrong.”
This was not the only voice to share worry over the new proposal, a law professor at Drexel University Anil Kalhan said on Twitter, "This is unnecessarily intrusive and beyond ridiculous." Furthermore, Facebook's position remains the same as last year, "We oppose any efforts to force travelers at the border to turn over their private account information, including passwords." Besides the social media screenings proposed by the Department of State, people applying for a will be asked provide past passport numbers, phone numbers, and email addresses.