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article imageDHS wants visitors to U.S. to provide social media accounts

By Arthur Weinreb     Jul 1, 2016 in Internet
The Department of Homeland Security is proposing visitors to the United States from countries whose citizens do not need visas be asked, on a voluntary basis, to provide social media handles and usernames.
Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) proposed visitors from countries under the Visa Waiver Program be asked about their social media accounts. Providing that information would be voluntary and although user names and handles would be asked for, American authorities will not ask for passwords.
Citizens in countries covered by the Visa Waiver Program can enter the United States and remain for up to 90 days without having first obtained a visa. Currently there are 38 countries, mostly in Europe, covered under the program. Citizens of those countries can fill out a form on the Internet and if approved, are able to enter the U.S. without a visa.
CBC reports Canadians are currently exempt from requirements to fill out a form as those in other Visa Waiver countries have to do and will not be asked to provide information about their social media accounts if the proposal is enacted.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that oversees the CBP, this would give investigators more tools to use to investigate people in order to expose nefarious activities.
The Visa Waiver Program has been tightened recently. In January, citizens of Visa Waiver countries who were also citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Sudan were not eligible to enter the U.S. without a visa. As well, citizens of VWP countries who had visited one of those four countries after March 1, 2011, are not eligible to visit the United States without obtaining a visa. This was in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris where some of the perpetrators had legal residence or citizenship in Belgium and France.
Currently, legislation is before Congress requiring the DHS to collect social media information from foreign visitors. This was in response to the San Bernardino shootings last December where Syed Rizwan Farook corresponded on Facebook with Tashfeen Malik about jihad. Malik, a citizen of Pakistan living in Saudi Arabia, married Farook, an American citizen, and was allowed to enter the United States.
But not everyone is happy with this proposal. Rep Vern Buchanan (R-FL) described the proposal as "lame" and said mandatory screening of social media accounts is necessary. It has been pointed out someone whose social media accounts indicates terrorist sympathies or plans is not likely to voluntarily provide the requested information.
The social media correspondence between Farook and Malik was carried out through private messages. None of the incriminating evidence against the couple was posted in public and would not have been found without access to their passwords, something the DHS does not intend to ask for.
Another problem is that posts on social media can be often misinterpreted, especially on Twitter where a post is limited to 140 characters. In 2012, two visitors from the United Kingdom were refused entry into the United States at the Los Angeles airport after postings on their social media accounts were found.
One tweet said the user was going to "destroy America." The visitor explained that was slang meaning he was going to party. Another tweet said he planned to dig up the grave of Marilyn Monroe. The man explained that referred to something said in an episode of the television show Family Guy and he had no intention of looking for and digging up Monroe's grave.
The public will now have until Aug. 22 to make comments upon this proposal after which consideration of the implementation will go ahead.
More about Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection, visa waiver program, san bernardino shooting, Paris attacks
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