Ananya Bhattacharya | Quartz | August 24, 2016 | 0 Comments

Silicon Valley to US: Asking for Foreign Travelers’ Social Media Accounts Creates 'Chilling Effect'

BeeBright/Shutterstock.com

Asking foreign visitors for their social media handles is a violation of privacy, according to the Internet Association. The trade group represents Google, Facebook, Twitter and other tech titans.

In a letter Aug. 22, the association denounced the U.S. government’s latest security measure: An optional new field on U.S. entry and departure immigration forms that asks noncitizen travelers to list their social media accounts. The proposal was open for comment from June 23 to Aug 22.

Social media accounts can offer sensitive information about beliefs, gender and sexuality, among other things, which security personnel wouldn’t necessarily have the right to investigate without just cause, argued the Internet Association. It warned of “a chilling effect on use of social media networks, online sharing and, ultimately, free speech online,” and cautioned that the U.S. could set a bad example for countries with far worse human rights records.

IA also questioned the cost and time it would take to analyze travelers’ accounts—queries the Homeland Security Department has not yet addressed.

The U.S. government says the proposed measure will help it detect “possible nefarious activity and connections” but the method is not without fault. Not only is the field is optional, but there’s also no way to stop anyone from lying. As Quartz’s Alice Truong previously explained, basic privacy precautions kept one of the 2015 San Bernardino attackers above suspicion until too late:

The U.S. government came under criticism after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, because one of the assailants, Tashfeen Malik, had passed three background checks for her visa despite using social media to voice support for jihad. Those messages, however, were created under a pseudonym and sent privately to her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook. The State Department has since said that “obviously things went wrong” in the visa process.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other organizations have also raised doubts about the measure stifling freedom of expression, according to Politico.

However, a spokeswoman for the Customs and Border Protection told Politico the agency is reviewing comments on its proposal and stressed any disclosure requested from travelers would be “optional.”

“The choice to hand over this information is technically voluntary,” Nathan White, digital rights organization Access Now’s senior legislative manager, told the site in a statement. “But the process to enter the U.S. is confusing, and it’s likely that most visitors will fill out the card completely rather than risk additional questions from intimidating, uniformed officers—the same officers who will decide which of your jokes are funny and which ones make you a security risk.”

Comments
JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.