Today we submitted formal comments to U.S. Customs and Border Protection objecting to its proposal to start asking visitors to the USA to list all their “social media identifiers”. USCBP (a division of the Department of Homeland Security) proposes to add this question to the I-94W form for international visitors arriving in the U.S., and to the online ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) application form for vistors form countries in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program:
Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.” It will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information. 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 analyze and investigate the case.
We’ve previously argued that the entire ESTA scheme is an illegal de facto visa requirement that violates the rights of foreign visitors to the U.S. But this proposal would make it even worse. Hundreds of individuals and more than two dozen organizations have already denounced this proposal. You can submit your own comments here until midnight tonight, Eastern time. If you agree with us that this is a terrible idea, feel free to endorse our comments or use them as a template:
We oppose this absurd and un-American questioning of foreign visitors to the U.S., and urge USCBP to withdraw this proposal.
Both freedom of speech and freedom of movement (“the right of the people… peaceably to assemble”) are recognized by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. These rights are also recognized in Article 12 (freedom of movement) and Article 19 (freedom of expression) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty ratified by, and binding on, the U.S. In addition, Article 17 of the ICCPR recognizes a right to protection against “arbitrary or unlawful interference with … privacy … or correspondence.”…
The essence of human rights law is that these rights are recognized as universal rights to which all people are entitled regardless of their citizenship or nationality (if any). This proposal … treats foreign visitors to the U.S. as lacking these human rights, and thus implicitly as less than human… This would reinforce the impression around the world that the U.S. does not believe in or respect human rights, but regards these universal human rights as “privileges” granted by the government and enjoyed only by U.S. citizens. We do not want to live under such a government or in such a world…
Given that providing social media identifiers would supposedly be “optional”, we are completely at a loss to understand what the government thinks this questioning will accomplish, other than discouraging foreign citizens from visiting the U.S.
Obviously, would-be visitors who have posted evidence on social media of illegal activity or of facts which would make them ineligible for admission to the U.S. would not voluntarily provide their social media identifiers as pointers to these incriminating admissions.
The only way to make any sense out of this proposal is to understand it as either (1) a “trial balloon” and step toward making the provision of social media identifiers mandatory, (2) an effort to trick visitors into thinking that they are required to answer the question, or (3) intended to form the basis in at least some cases for denial of admission or imposition of other adverse consequences on the basis of whether or not an individual “chooses” to respond.
None of these are acceptable uses or justifications for the proposed questioning….
USCBP says that social media identifiers will be “used for vetting purpses”. Although “vetting” is not defined in the notice or anywhere else in the law governing USCBP’s activities, we understand this to mean that the social media identifiers themselves, as well as information obtained by using them, will be added to the (secret) data set that serves as the input to the (secret) algorithmic rule set of the “black box” that decides whether to grant foreign citizens “permission” to travel to the U.S., and decides how to treat them when they arrive. Adding social media identifiers and information obtained through their use to this witches brew of pre-crime profiling and travel “permission” decision-making would only make a bad system worse, and compound the ongoing violations of travelers’ rights….
As U.S. citizens, we want our human rights – including our right to freedom of expression and our right to freedom of movement – to be respected by foreign governments when we travel. We do not want to be associated with the unjust, discriminatory, and legally incorrect position of the U.S. government, expressed in this proposal, that foreign citizens lack human rights. We do not wish to be the target of reciprocal denial of our human rights, including freedom of movement and freedom of speech, in other countries that we visit. We urge USCBP to set a good example to the world, not a bad example, by withdrawing this proposal.