The State Department wants to require all inbound US Visa applicants to submit their social media usernames, previous email addresses and telephone numbers. This will affect 15 million foreigners who apply to enter the U.S. each year, both immigrants and visitors alike. This was previously an optional choice in the application process. (source)
Spoiler alert: I’m going to veer off topic, though this is somewhat related to photography.
It’s arguable whether we’re safer now than 17 years ago (source). If our government had a better track record, that’d help.
Beefing up the application process is good…IF the vetting process actually caught criminals and would-be terrorists who were stupid enough to discuss their plans on public social media.
Obviously, DHS and State Dept aren’t going to hand-screen every single social media handles. 15 million people; no shit.
They’ll create a software to look for trigger words and phrases and images. Similar software already exist; it’s a poorly kept secret that DHS and a number of other government agencies have backdoor access to many social media channels, and it wouldn’t be too onerous to scan the applicants.
Big Brother is always watching.
This new requirement will add time and manpower to the application process. Employees will have to check into all the positives and false-positive hits.
“Make the foreign visitors pay for it in their application process” you might say. That’s certainly doable, but consider this: if we start tacking on too many fees and requirements onto the application, they’ll stop coming here. They’ll stop spending money here. Tourists contributed roughly $40 billion to US GDP in 2015 (source).
A chunk of those tourism dollars could go poof.
Alright. So, let’s loop back to social media stuff. Most of you have Facebook and emails, at least.
A Thought Experiment
US will screen its own citizens
If we start screening in-bound foreign visitors’ social media channels and emails, who’s to say other countries won’t do the same for US visitors?
How would you feel about having to hand over your social media handles if you wanted to visit Banff in Canada and Guadalajara in Mexico? And passwords? Passwords aren’t required now, but it’ll likely be a requirement in the future.
It’s not a huge leap of imagination to think that our own government will start requiring you to hand over your social media info if you want to leave the country. They’ll say they’re just being proactive. Being good allies. Helping the smaller, poorer countries who don’t have the funds or the manpower to screen properly. For all they know, you’re leaving USA to conspire with terrorists abroad.
“But I have nothing to hide!”
That’s a slippery slope to get on. You value your privacy, right? Think about all the emails you’ve sent over the past 20 years. If government gain access to your email, they can see the billing invoices that were emailed to you, they can see where you bank at, and that your best friend hates That Coworker Who Won’t Shut Up. Are you okay with the government having access to this?
How is this different from Facebook mining your personal data?
I dunno about you, but this new requirement makes me uneasy about the future of privacy.
What do you think? Good? Bad? Let me know in the comments.