On Thursday, the Trump administration made its move following their emphasis on “extreme vetting” on their immigration policy by requiring all visa applicants who want to come to the United States to hand over five years of their social media history to the government. In addition to giving up their social media accounts, applicants are also required to turn over their previous telephone numbers, email addresses, prior immigration violations, and any family history of involvement in terrorist activities.
According to the notices submitted by the State Department, the proposed new rule would affect almost 15 million applicants, including those who apply for legal permanent residency, as students, for business trips, or on vacation. Those exempt from this new rule are those applying for diplomatic and official visas. This action is an extension of efforts by the previous administration to inspect social media more closely after the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack.
The move is not expected to take effect immediately as they have to wait for sixty days for the public to comment on the move. Nevertheless, this proposed move is going to grab the attention of those critics who advocate privacy and civil liberties. Critics are already complaining this proposed new rule because not only is it invasive on privacy grounds but, it also effectively limits and slows down the process of immigration, making it harder and stressful to be accepted for a visa. Federal authorities, however, argued back by saying that this change is necessary for national security.
Although the U.S. government has expressed their desire and interest in examining the backgrounds of foreign travelers through social media histories, this proposed new rule is the first time which the administration is formally requiring all applicants to submit their social media information if they want to come to the U.S.
It was after the 2015 San Bernardino attack that placed greater attention on immigrants’ social media use after it was revealed that one of the attackers had advocated jihad in posts on her private social media account which authorities had failed to find before giving her authorization to enter the U.S.
The new move from the Trump administration does not include applicants turning over their passwords or access to their social media accounts even though then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly suggested that it was being considered last year.