In a previous post, we addressed efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to collect certain information relating to immigrants’ use of social media for record-keeping and tracking purposes. Subsequently, on March 30, 2018, the State Department released a notice of a proposed rule that would require the collection of social media information in connection with an application for a Nonimmigrant Visa through what is called a DS-160.
The DS-160 application has previously been used to collect certain biographical information of applicants, but the proposed rule would expand the information collected to include identifiers, or “handles,” used by applicants for various social media platforms during the previous five years. Like similar efforts to collect social media data by the Department of Homeland Security, the proposed rule is largely in response to the San Bernardino mass shooting. Prior to the shooting, the attackers had revealed a commitment to jihad and an affinity to terrorist organizations in their private social media communications.
In addition to requesting social media identifiers for the previous five years, the proposed rule would also require applications to provide previously used telephone numbers, email addresses, previous international travel information, whether the applicant has been deported or removed from any country, and whether specified family members have been involved in terrorist activities. Though some government officials previously discussed the possibility of requiring the disclosure of all social media password information, the proposed rule would not require such disclosure.
Of course, the proposed rule is not without criticism. Many opponents have argued that the proposed rule will have a chilling effect on free speech. Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, stated that “people will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official.” Others have expressed concern that efforts generally to collect social media information could be used as a tool to discriminate against applicants coming from predominately Muslim countries, regardless of their individual activities.
The proposed rule would affect almost 15 million people per year, excluding certain diplomats and other individuals coming from countries to which the U.S. grants visa-free travel, who will be exempt from the rule. The public comment period for the proposed rule ends on May 29, 2018.