The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency have entered a new proposal into the federal register that would allow U.S. customs agents to stalk the social media accounts of any foreign visitors entering the country. They are declaring the proposal as a counter-terrorism measure to improve national security.
If passed, the proposal would update the required entry forms with a question asking travelers to “Please enter information associated with your online presence — Provider/Platform — Social media identifier.” The proposal states that entering the is information is not mandator, however, declining to share the information could make foreign visitors “subject to additional scrutiny.”
The DHS claims that being able to review a visitors online presence will add a new level of scrutiny that cannot be obtained through the current entry process that requires foreign visitors to be photographed, fingerprinted, and in-person interviewed, and checked against numerous database checks. The official proposal reads:
“Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyse and investigate the case,”
The new “social media field” will be added to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and Form I-94, both of which are used to notify United States authorities in advance of a foreign visitors arrival to and departure from the U.S.
The DHS claims that the U.S. wouldn’t be the first country to implement a social media check. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed Canadian spy agencies track foreign visitors for days after they leave airport terminals by capturing their device identification from the free Wi-Fi hotspots at major Canadian airports.
The DHS hopes the measure adds a layer of transparency and scrutiny to the customs process for foreign tourists that will improve national security. Critics argue the measure will be ineffective because visitors with terrorist ties and bad intentions can simply withhold the information or create fake social media profiles to fool customs agents.
US Customs and Border Protection are seeking comments on the new proposal by August 22.