Groups oppose US plan to collect social media info from visitors

The groups say a Department of Homeland Security proposal will be ineffective and impinge on privacy

Civil liberties and tech advocacy groups have opposed a move by the Department of Homeland Security to collect social media information from certain categories of visitors to the U.S.

“This program would invade individual privacy and imperil freedom of expression while being ineffective and prohibitively expensive to implement and maintain,” wrote organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy & Technology and Electronic Frontier Foundation in comments to the Department of Homeland Security on Monday.

The provision allows for collection of information on their online presence from certain categories of visitors in their visa-waiver arrival/departure records (Form I-94W) and their online application for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

The visa-waiver program enables most citizens or nationals of participating countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa, if they meet certain conditions.

DHS has asked for written comments on its proposal that would add to the ESTA and to Form I-94W the following entry: “Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier,” which visitors can fill optionally. The notice is not clear about the precise information that will be sought, but the groups said the proposal would “appear to solicit applicants’ account names on certain popular social media platforms, and to volunteer any additional account names and platforms they may use.”

Although it is described by DHS as voluntary, the absence of information in the data field could also be possibly interpreted as something worth scrutiny by the authorities, according to analysts.

“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,” DHS said in June.

But the groups disagree that the collection will be effective in helping track down potential terrorists from the social media accounts of the visa-waiver applicants. “Individuals who pose a threat to the United States are highly unlikely to volunteer online identifiers tied to information that would raise questions about their admissibility to the United States,” the groups wrote.

In contrast, the program would significantly impinge on the privacy of  visitors and lead to an expansion of surveillance activities, according to the groups. The provision also raises the risk of discrimination based on analysis of social media content and connections, which will likely affect people of Arab and Muslim communities, whose usernames, posts, contacts, and social networks will be exposed to close scrutiny.

The deadline for comments on the proposal was Monday.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?