DHS Wants Travelers Entering The US To Include Their Social Media Handles… Just Because

from the maybe-they-want-to-be-friends dept

Late last week, a proposal from the Department of Homeland Security was published in the Federal Register concerning forms tourists need to fill out upon entering the US. Specifically, DHS proposed adding the following to Form I-94W, which is the Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Record:

?Please enter information associated with your online presence?Provider/Platform?Social media identifier.?

Why? Well, it’s pretty much exactly as you guessed:

It will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information. 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.

In other words, if you’re following ISIS accounts on Twitter, DHS might not let you into the US. And sure, it’s voluntary, but it looks like some in Congress are already saying that this sort of thing ought to be mandatory. Of course, for the vast majority of people, their social media profiles are going to be pretty boring for your average Customs and Border Patrol agent, but do we really think it’s a good use of their time to be trolling through their Facebook and Twitter feeds or Instagram and Pinterest images?

Overall, this seems like a typical kneejerk response to various concerns about letting people with ill-intent into the country. Eventually, someone travelling here on a tourist visa will do something horrendous, and people will look at who was friends with that person on Twitter or Facebook and freak out. But the idea that the government should be asking travelers for their social media info feels fairly intrusive. What people say on social media or who they’re connected with seems likely to be a pretty poor indicator of whether or not they’re coming to the US to blow stuff up.

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Comments on “DHS Wants Travelers Entering The US To Include Their Social Media Handles… Just Because”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Absolutely, totally voluntary... today

If something like this becomes widespread and seen as just another part of travelling then you can be sure that ‘voluntary’ or not refusal/inability to provide the information will likely result in a more ‘personal’ travelling experience, as anyone who doesn’t/can’t provide the information will be treated as suspicious and in need of a closer look because ‘Only criminals, terrorists and/or communists have something to hide.’

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Absolutely, totally voluntary... today

Well they know EVERYONE is on FB, and anyone who says otherwise is lying and needs cavity searches.

Only bad people with things to hide don’t use FB, it can’t be that these people find it insipid, intrusive, & like to do more than just hit a like button to solve all the worlds problems.

Our leadership is out of touch, and has opted to surround themselves with people who’s next raise depends on making sure reality doesn’t actually reach them to point out how stupid this all is.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Absolutely, totally voluntary... today

Not likely they know about me.
A side effect of not being out & wanting to protect myself (when I was younger) meant learning to avoid these sorts of things. Just because I was paranoid didn’t mean they weren’t out to get me.

I must be doing something right I know I’ve turned up in at least 3 different acronym agencies background checks, and never a single blip in those people being vetted despite ties to me.

Hurm, either I’m that good or their process sucks that much…

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Absolutely, totally voluntary... today

Seriously? That’s nuts.

Personally, though, I actually don’t mind it. Any potential employer that thinks lack of a social media account has any bearing on social character is one that is too stupid to safely work for. So they’re pretty much saving me from dodgy employers.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Absolutely, totally voluntary... today

Seriously? That’s nuts.

Yep. I know of a both a private company and a police department in my area that require applicants to log in to their Facebook accounts during the interview and then step away from the computer while they peruse your account.

If you tell them you don’t have a Facebook account, they assume that you deleted it in anticipation of the interview so that they wouldn’t find anything negative about you. (Or that you’re not socialized properly for the modern era, i.e., weird.)

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Absolutely, totally voluntary... today

“require applicants to log in to their Facebook accounts during the interview”

I’ve never had that happen personally, but have heard of it from time to time, so I have a response prepared: if I am presented with such a request, then that marks the end of the interview and I will leave.

It’s part of my attitude about job interviews: they are two-way streets. I am using the interview to gauge the suitability of the employer just as much as they are gauging my suitability as an employee.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Absolutely, totally voluntary... today

Same here, although I would start asking questions about why they’re so interested in what an employee gets up to outside of their professional life, and ask what methods they used before social media. I would however advise them that I wouldn’t be interested in working for a company that so clearly doesn’t trust its employees.

The privilege of being in a steady career and having gone through my young adult years pre-social media, I suppose. I feel sorry for anyone who is desperate enough for a job that they submit to such privacy invasion willingly.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.”

Well, that’s pretty vague. First of all, what does “online presence” mean? Are they just asking for social media? Your own blogs/websites? Disqus account or internal sites where you’re commented? How far do they mean to go? If just social media, what’s the definition of what that means?

Then, of course, there’s the fact that these accounts don’t get verified unless specifically requested, and people switch networks all the time. Some people have multiple accounts on each service, which may be for legitimate reasons even if they violate the T&Cs. What if a person has an old account that’s still active seen if they haven’t used it for a long time? Would omitting this be viewed as suspicious? If not, what’s to stop a person simply handing over innocent dummy accounts that they’re clever enough not to use for their more nefarious activities?

This strikes me as being one of two things – something that a ignorant person thinks would sound like a “good idea” and hasn’t really been thought through, or an excuse to give authorities another chance to give incomplete/incorrect data on a form so that they can use that as an excuse to prosecute/refuse entry if they don’t have a more valid reason. For pure intelligence gathering or a way to improve the dataset used to consider a person’s application, it seems extremely poor.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It is all about adding more hay to the haystack that hasn’t helped us find any needles yet.
If we can get them even more data they can build profiles that will be incorrect & inaccurate and leap to all the wrong conclusions.
Eventually something bad will happen, and they will then be able to show us this huge dossier on the suspect & break down all of the ways they failed to act on the information they already had because they were trying to get more funneled into the system.

Somewhere someone is selling them Tiger Repelling Rock v3.0b, and all it needs is just a little more info and it will totally catch all the “Bad People” ™.

BernardoVerda says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

There’s the problem, right there.

That’s at least the second time I’ve seen that fundamental error made in this very thread.

It’s well known (or should be) Repellent Rocks are only effective against lions. To deter Tigers, you need a tiger-repelling Stick. All the rocks in the world won’t help you spot and correctly identify an actual tiger on the prowl — the rocks just get underfoot, trip you up, and distract you from the vital task of watching out for apex predators.

– – – – –

Similarly, of course, Facebook and Twitter screen-names won’t help reveal and identify actual, committed terrorists — to the contrary that will only leave our diligent protective agencies trying to sift digital land-fill for the occasional diamond (which will almost invariably prove to be paste jewellery or a child’s toy). No; for this vital task, one clearly needs the far more relevant comment histories — such as the troves of valuable data to be gleaned from the online forums for Dilbert, Calvin & Hobbs, and XKCD.

Sheesh! Incompetence is everywhere, these days.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Because a terrorist would be much to stupid to have dummy accounts setup that are pristine.

Because looking at who is in their circles totally tells you all about them… I mean I follow a buncha lawyers, some alt-right guys, and Techdirt authors… what sort of twisted picture does that give? What kind of picture does it paint of them that a gay nym is in their circle?

Did you follow an ISIS related account because you are trying to understand? Well you might be a terrorist we should investigate.

Given we threw sexually abused boys & men who happened to buy a popular brand of cheap watch into GITMO because terrorism, is no reason to engage in rational thought at this late stage. Stay the course of doing fucking stupid things that accomplish nothing but make us look that much stupider.

Perhaps all of the FBI started ‘terrorist plots’ they keep foiling, for media coverage and budget bumps, has Congress thinking all terrorists are fucking stupid?

At what point will we find the will to demand better from people we pay a fuckload of money who aren’t doing anything but scoring cool soundbites & turning our nation against itself?

They have done fuck all in office but waste time blaming the other guy when all of them have failed us and we should just sweep the whole place clean & keep sweeping out the unworthy until we manage to elect people with functioning IQs who can think beyond the next soundbite that they will use to raise campagin cash.

Anonymous Coward says:

7 degrees....

So what used to be “7 degrees from Kevin Bacon” is going to become “7 degrees from whatever we don’t like”, which comes with all the benefits of not only being denied entry to the US, but also being detained and threatened until you turn into an informant for said group, or arrested anyways, just because.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

according to the (in)justice system:
it is ‘okay’ for police to lie,
it is ‘okay’ for police to be ignorant of the law,
it is ‘okay’ for police to illegally detain you,
it is ‘okay’ for police to illegally confiscate your shit,
it is ‘okay’ for police to give illegal orders,
it is ‘okay’ for police to run pron sites,
it is ‘okay’ for police to engage in entrapment,
it is ‘okay’ for police to make up shit,
it is ‘okay’ for police to threaten you,
it is ‘okay’ for police to taser you,
it is ‘okay’ for police to fucking kill you…

um, but we’re NOT a police-state, mmm-kay ? ? ?

JD says:

Aural warfare

Me: “Oh, and I have this CetiAlpha YouTube account, but …. I wouldn’t click on that if I were you.”
DHS: “OH?!?? AND WHY NOT?!??”
Me: “No, really. I take no responsibility if you click on it.”
[YouTube music videos start]
DHS: “….no….no no no …”
DHS: [claws ears]
DHS: [bangs head on desk]
DHS: [turns phaser on self]

Sasparilla says:

Papers and logins please...

Just wait till you have to provide these with your fingerprint for a passport.

Short term this would just provide too much information to be useful, long term though, the govt will have AI scanning everyone’s online presence constantly – and everyone can be monitored all the time (the table is being set for that).

Capt ICE Enforcer says:

Terrible idea

This is a terrible idea. I will have to put down my Techdirt information and Uncle Sam will deny me access to the US and then confine me to prison. Why you ask. Well I am sure there is some vague law that states that you are not allowed to impersonate a federal employee. And guess what. “Spoiler Alert” I am not a captain and I have never worked for ICE. I am so dead. Will someone please continue to water my lawn if I suddenly vanish online.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not everyone is on fb or instragram,
some people are not social ,or dont use computers .
i can see this being used as an excuse to detain someone .if you cant show a fb account .
many accounts are in fake names on twitter etc .
how do you prove you never use fb or social media .
Will your twitter or fb account password be recorded for future use .
Some people are anti social or cant be bothered running
social media accounts .
It a bit big brother we want acess to your online
activity .
is the concept of privacy dead in the usa ?
will you have to sign to to a dhs pc to prove you have a facebook account .
OF course the fbi now has the right to hack any pc they wish ,
so they,ll have everyones password if the want .

Anonymous Coward says:

The totally predictable result...

Is that honest people who pose no threat will comply and sometimes come to grief because of compliance. People who you want to keep out will lie. This will be a filter to harm friends and ignore enemies. Great move, really gives you confidence in the government, doesn’t it?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: The totally predictable result...

Wouldn’t be the first system employed by a government agency that actually punishes the honest and rewards the dishonest, just look at ‘lie detectors’.

The easier you find it to lie, the easier you’ll find it to ‘pass’, while on the other hand an honest person put in a stressful situation(like say hooked up to a device that is claimed to be able to measure honesty) is more likely to ‘fail’ simply because it’s more stressful for them, and signs of stress, not ‘honesty’ is what it’s meant to spot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The totally predictable result...

I would predict tarbaby’s, honeypots and bait. Perhaps they haven’t thought that providing this data could itself be an attack vector?

Of course they may have considered that, and it could be one of those tests that isn’t really a test. For example, they scrutinize the forms with blank fields as a basis for narrowing the list of targets for observation.

Which of course would increase the likelyhood that rural Americans are going to get more frequently flagged as terrorists. (We don’t have ANY data in THEM! They must be terrorists!)

The more Internet driven DHS gets, the more susceptible they are to cascade failure resulting from bad data. They’ve never seen what happens when a whole national network crashes because of one typo. The equivalent event in human profiling has potential for being an unrecoverable scenario.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The totally predictable result...

Which of course would increase the likelyhood that rural Americans are going to get more frequently flagged as terrorists.

So not only do your ISPs have an abysmal customer service record, and a lousy service, they are causing people to turn to terrorism because of it.


Anonymous Coward says:

To be honest, it is not much more redicilous than what is on the forms today. If you have not read them i highly recommend you do. I would not be afraid of the terrorist who get cought by not lying on the question “Have you been involved in or planning to conduct espionage, terrorist activities and/or genocide?”

Would really like to know how the info is used though, the application takes under a minute to process

To DHS credit, I have never seen such clear privacy policy statements as on the application website.

I.T. Guy says:

What does someone do if they dont use social media? Despite my moniker I do not do the FacieBooks or the Twatter… no Punterest or Slapchat, etc. Nope. None of it. I realized a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away, just as everybody was using AOL, that everything you do on-the-internet is logged somewhere. That assumption was confirmed once I got interested in IT and started learning how things worked. Paranoid. You betcha. And rightly so. If you would have told me back then what is going on right now I would have laughed at you and said, “Not in America.” Little did I know I was Living in Merika.

So when anyone asks me if I’d like to include my email address or if I do social media, the answer is no. And I am 99.9% true in that answer. 🙂

David says:

Doesn't the NSA/FBI/DHS already have this info?

Aren’t they already plugged into to Twitter et. al. firehose to scavenge this stuff and monitor accounts that seem suspicious? Don’t they already use this to put people on watch lists and no-fly lists already? All they are doing it duplicating a haystack they already don’t have the resources to sift through.

It’s going to get to the point where 50% of the citizens are working for the government monitoring the other 50% of the citizens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Given privacy settings on social media can allow you to heavily restrict who can see your contents, the only way this could consistently be useful is if 1) such privacy settings are banned, 2) the government forces social media companies to give them total access regardless of privacy settings.

#1 obviously isn’t going to happen.

Anyone care to bet on whether #2 has already taken place, or if that’s something they haven’t figured out they need yet?

Anon says:

Silly Comments

Read the post carefully. This is when applying for a Visa Waiver. If you were visiting the USA from Canada and the nice customs man said ‘Have you ver used pot in your life?” and you stupidly and honestly replied “yes”, they can deny you entry into the USA on the grounds of moral turpitude. (Happened several years ago, IIRC, for some guys headed for Burning Man). Or maybe you said you were going to visit your online girlfriend that you had never met in person, and the confused older CBP official thought you were trying to sneak into the USA.

Having been denied entry, you must now submit the paperwork (and $600US)to request that they let you in – and repeat as necessary every 1 to 5 years. The suggestion is that this application include your online information too now.

How will they know? Well, the first thing you’ll “voluntarily” give them will be your email address. Bet you used that to sign up for everything else. If I were a paranoid CBP and something rang alarm bells, I’d try logon or password reset with your email address to Twit, FB, Techdirt, etc. If you did not say you were there, yet FB says “password reset info sent to that address” then automatic denial of travel permission.

Maybe they have a secret database of bad people’s secret passwords. Maybe the NSA will hook them up with email-to-IP information, and your partner’s or kid’s browsing history is available at NSA Central. Who knows… Should we all be paranoid.

Anonymous Coward says:

> It will be an optional data field

… no, it won’t be.

It won’t be marked as “optional” because they really really want to get that information. It will only be optional if you already know it is optional.

They may (or may not) have a policy that says you don’t have to fill it in, but they won’t train the people receiving the forms to know that.

And you know that this is precisely how they will play it if they can.

TRX (profile) says:

Canada’s CBSA border goons already demand people unlock their phones, log into any email accounts, and let them paw through their mail, tweets, instant messages, and texts.

Apparently a lot of people are dumb enough to have incriminating information on their phone…

They’d probably freak out when confronted with my ancient dumb phone. There are a number of reasons why I don’t carry a smartphone…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’m with you in this. I’ve never had a FB account, never been to instagram, Twitter, or what ever the latest craze is. Should this cap introduction become burdensome, I will drop the internet as not being cost effective.

When I lived in the country, the only internet available was satellite unless we wanted to pony up $800 per pole to bring in the lines. Nor was cell phones available at a reasonable cost for cell service. Just happened to be a huge hill between us and the tower. So on line while in the country just didn’t work out for us.

Personanongrata says:

Inane Data Collection is not a Solution

DHS Wants Travelers Entering The US To Include Their Social Media Handles… Just Because

This DHS initiative is simply the continuation of the collection/storage of more and more useless information that is thrown into the US governments ever growing “haystack” of data in hopes of uncovering a “needle” of evidence.

Even if there was a “needle” to be uncovered there are not enough analysts in government employ to shift through all of the “haystacks” that have been collected and stored at US government data repositories. Storing massive amounts of data is not the most efficient way of uncovering/catching terrorists (which is the US governments justification for the creation of the total surveillance state). Storing massive amounts of data is however quite useful in retroactively dredging up potential “needles” for use against whom ever the US government arbitrarily declares to be persona non grata de jour.

Utah Data Center


Texas Cryptologic Center


Aerospace Data Facility-Colorado


Georgia Cryptologic Center


Hawaii Cryptologic Center


Dagger Complex


Anonymous Coward says:

I would be under heavy investigation.

I do have a Facebook profile… with 1 picture, my family as contacts and information that hasn’t been updated for maybe 5 years. I bet that would be suspicious to them.
Well it depends on what kind of information they want.
If they want all my handles for forums and so on, they would need more pages because I use a different one every time.

I am guessing that this is going to cause problems for some people more than others when people just don’t fell like answering the question and writes “Whatever” in that field.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I would be under heavy investigation.

“handles for forums and so on, they would need more pages because I use a different one every time”

My SO has memory problems from a head injury, and literally can’t remember them all (nor remember to keep records of them), so creates new ones occasionally anyway. That would look like deliberate obfuscation, bound to be taken as a clear sign of ‘undesirable activities’. What’s next? A neurologist’s or psychiatrists letter stating ‘brain allowed to travel’?

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