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Visa Applicants May Be Required To Disclose Their Social Media Pages For Approval
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has proposed a change to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application that would make the collection of social media profiles a requirement. Skift reports that the online application system is used by visitors from 38 eligible countries for the U.S.’s Visa Waiver Program.
Applicants currently have the option of disclosing or withholding social media information, but under the new proposal, they would be required to provide their social media usernames and handles for any mainstream social media platforms that they’ve been active on in the past five years, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and others.
Information would be limited to whatever is publicly available, meaning that officials would not gain access to content that is friend’s only or only visible to followers. Homeland Security defends the proposal, saying that such information can “provide positive, confirmatory information to verify identity” and “identify potential deception, fraud, or previously unidentified national security or law enforcement concerns.” The change will also apply to other immigration benefits and visa types, affecting approximately 33 million people per year.
Many are worried that this development will negatively impact the U.S inbound tourism, which has declined by 1.9% in the first six months of this year. The U.S. Travel Association reported a four-year drop in global market share of long haul travel to just 11.3% this year. It is predicted that the number will drop to 10.9% by 2020, costing the country $180 billion in international tourist spending.
Travel experts are skeptical of the requirement, pointing out that criminals are unlikely to be truthful on the application and that legitimate travelers will have justifiable privacy concerns that could make them rethink their trip. It’s also unclear whether the policy will have an impact on public safety, as only one American has been the victim of a terrorist attack carried out by someone who entered the country on the Visa Waiver Program (Cato Institute).
Applicants will have the option to choose “none” or “other” when entering social media information, but it’s unclear whether applicants who choose not to disclose will be denied entry if they are found to have social media accounts.
Homeland Security posted the policy on the Federal Register on September 4 to initiate a three-month request for comment period. Many of the comments posted so far are lobbying against the policy.