Opposing a Department of Homeland Security proposal to collect social media identifiers from U.S. visitors, human rights and civil liberties organizations claim this request will endanger user privacy and freedom of expression.
While the DHS claims the request will only be optional in both the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and the Form I-94W, the proposed provision would allegedly help DHS in tracking down potential criminal activities.
“It will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information,” reads the DHS proposal. “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.”
Because the DHS does not specify how the data will be used in determining a candidate’s eligibility for a visa waiver, the groups argues the DHS will gain significant insight into users’ personal lives. Arguing that this is an attempt to expand the DHS’s intelligence activity, the coalition letter states it would create disproportionate risk to users, especially from Arab and Muslim communities.
“All of the information collected through ESTA is shared, in bulk, with U.S. intelligence agencies and can be used to seed more intelligence surveillance unrelated to the applicant’s eligibility for a visa waiver,” reads the coalition letter. “It is likely to be used to augment existing lists and databases for tracking persons of interest to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, with consequences for innocent individuals swept up in those programs.”
The letter asks the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to dismiss the DHS proposal, as it risks discriminatory actions on minority communities. Also, analyzing the sheer amount of social media data would undoubtedly generate significant costs that are likely to exceed DHS’s budget.