DHS Steps Up Demands For Visa Applicants' Social Media Account Info

from the welcome-to-land-of-the-free,-sucker dept

The slow boil of ultra-intrusiveness at the border is underway. Americans apparently signed away a great deal of their rights in exchange for some national security, resulting in a Constitution-free zone extending inland 100 miles from the nation’s borders. Visitors and visa holders are in for a much more revealing experience upon arrival, although they’ll be on the only ones doing the revealing.

The DHS has floated several ideas over the last several months, ranging from “voluntary” requests for social media account info to straight-up demanding account passwords. The vetting of newcomers and visitors is moving towards the “extreme” end of the dial, with the DHS finally formalizing the first part of its list of demands.

Foreigners applying for a visa to enter the US will now be asked to turn over their social media handles for the past five years, as well as biographical information — including email addresses and phone numbers — for the past 15 years.

The new form says nothing about its voluntary nature until the very last sentence of the fine print on the second page. Presumably, the DHS is hoping applicants will fill the whole thing out before getting to the statements saying they don’t have to. The wording also hints not filling out the form completely will result in a less favorable review of the application. The terms “delay” and “denial” are placed in very close proximity to the word “voluntary.”

And even if applicants opt out, the government still has the power to remove the voluntary aspect of the social media account info requests.

The agency added that consular officials… will have free rein to demand applicants to turn over their information who they believe may “warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.”

The government’s filing states officials will not request account passwords, at least not at this time. That is still subject to change and DHS head John Kelly has already hinted at this demand’s inevitability. And that only covers this form. There will be no box on this form for social media passwords, but that doesn’t specifically forbid officials and/or CBP/ICE agents from hinting things will run smoother and faster with the right kind of voluntary cooperation.

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Comments on “DHS Steps Up Demands For Visa Applicants' Social Media Account Info”

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57 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Not so much, no

Americans apparently signed away a great deal of their rights in exchange for some national security, resulting in a Constitution-free zone extending inland 100 miles from the nation’s borders.

‘In exchange for’ would imply that the american public actually gained something in exchange for giving up their rights, when all we actually got was an increase in the illusion of the nebulous ‘national security’.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not so much, no

Wow really? You’ve gone from whining about which stories are written to now whining about how the community are voting on individual comments? The best part – the sentiment you’re replying to is repeated here on a regular basis, both in articles and the comment threads.

So, you can’t even agree with a comment without a weak, flailing attack on the site. What a sad little life to lead.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Not so much, no

Jesus first you whine about not getting on the weekly list. Then you get on it and than whine about that. And now you have the ball-balls to go back to whining about not making the deans list. You are right about hypocrisy being the problem, just not in the way you intended.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Not so much, no

I think you’re mixing up My_Name_Here’s "government and authority, oh goody goody!" shtick with the resident "fuck regulation, and fuck you all, lol" broken record player.

Although My_Name_Here is dumb enough to get a Poe’d place in the weekly mentions. This guy just wants to throw mud in everyone’s face. Apparently he thinks ordinary citizens from other countries who also happen to read this site can influence the American DHS.

How? The only solution he can give is that we apparently haven’t boycotted American corporations hard enough…

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not so much, no

but hey it’s TD, this place does not understand the concept of how people constantly work against themselves in the pursuit of something they "think" will benefit them.

To summarize:

  • TD posts a story warning of how the American people (via government) are working against themselves in the pursuit of something they "think" will benefit them. "The slow boil of ultra-intrusiveness at the border is underway. Americans apparently signed away a great deal of their rights in exchange for some national security…" A common theme at Techdirt.
  • A bunch of readers respond – as they often do – with posts about how people constantly work against themselves in the pursuit of something they "think" will benefit them.

AND THEN…

  • Anonymous Coward declares "but hey it’s TD, this place does not understand the concept of how people constantly work against themselves in the pursuit of something they "think" will benefit them."

I don’t want to sound insulting or abusive. I’m honestly curious: What’s wrong with you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Not so much, no

“I don’t want to sound insulting or abusive. I’m honestly curious: What’s wrong with you?”

Do not be concerned with this. Insulting and abusive is for those with weak minds and can’t handle any criticism. While the snowflakes around here are still looking for their “safe spaces” it is difficult to help them understand where they are failing. We all fail, but for them, they think that they could never fail.

It has been very difficult to help a lot of people around here understand that they are their own greatest enemies. I have tried a soft touch, an abusive touch, a condescending touch.

Well I am all out of ways I can think to help them understand. I have often found that most are not interested in learning, they are just interested in showing up to a fight and WINNING even when they look like idiots in the process. But that is just how everyone bias works. If you don’t agree with me, then you must be an idiot. I don’t think the people here are idiots for not agreeing with me, just idiots for working against themselves in the process.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Not so much, no

Oh… that is just me picking on the natives. Remember how people are. They don’t care about the truth or facts. They just parrot what they think the majority thinks so they can “feel” involved or a part of the crowd.

I hate having to replay truth like it is noise, but people are just that uncaring about it. If they DID care, then no one would be jumping to conclusions about guilt and innocence.

Far too many people are in jail because of problem like this.
Far too many people equate the word regulation as “benefit ONLY to consumer” and deregulation as “benefit ONLY to business”. Those words do not mean that, but they do not care and use them exclusively in those terms anyways. They are just like the rich businessmen they bitch about, using buzzwords and flying their ego’s high like kites like they know what they are talking about.

Humans are a cancer and they like to group up and use that group to oppress other groups or individuals. This is why democracy is a failure. Democracy is two wolves and one lamb deciding what is for dinner.

The same people that claim to want tolerance and diversity are intolerant of anyone that does not parrot their “views”. They do not even understand that they are greater enemies to their own cause than those they claim are enemies!

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Not so much, no

I hate having to replay truth like it is noise, but people are just that uncaring about it. If they DID care, then no one would be jumping to conclusions about guilt and innocence.

One more time: For a story warning about X followed by lots of people also warning about X, you respond with "no-one here is concerned with X."

Do you go to an automobile recall forum, find a thread about a specific recall, and then declare that no-one there cares about recalls?

Far too many people equate the word regulation as "benefit ONLY to consumer" and deregulation as "benefit ONLY to business".

And yet there’s a steady stream of stories here highlighting the opposite.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Not so much, no

Far too many people equate the word regulation as “benefit ONLY to consumer”

And a few people like you suffer from the delusion that no regulation will always benefit the consumer.Wher major infrastructure u=is required, that idea is always false, as infrastructure ownership give the owners control over whatever that infra structure provides.

Anonmylous says:

Uhm...

Who the hell remembers their phone number from 15 years ago? I don’t remember my phone number… my CURRENT phone number. Its in my phone, so I don’t have to remember it or anyone else’s phone numbers anymore. Today you don’t even have to know your number to give it to someone else, you can just TAP the bloody things together to exchange contact info!

I’d accuse ICE et al of being clueless but this seems very methodically thought out to help the current party in power close our borders entirely.

Who’d have thought I’d someday live in a world crazier than the plot of Escape from L.A.?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Uhm...

The phone companies might not even have records going back that far. Cellular and VOIP companie, if you either cancel or don’t pay the bill, hold the numbers for a certain amount of time, and then release them into the pool of available numbers.

They could demand your phone numbers, for the past 15 years, but phone company records will not go back that far.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They’ll do it to SORA offenders first. Then drug offenders. Then felons generally. Then all “criminals”. Then, only after its firmly established as a normal practice, they’ll start to spread it to the general population.

Starting with making it mandatory to do a full background check in licensed professions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Up Next...

Cloud-connected always-on microphones with connections to your calendars, contacts, purchasing habits and more.

You mean like smartphones? Don’t be distracted by the novelty of Echo-like devices, their surveillance capabilities are banal compared to what the population has already accepted with the adoption of voluntary tracking devices.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Up Next...

But enough people.

It’s one of the reasons I closed down my Facebook account years ago:

I could set all the privacy settings to maximum, never tag my face in photos, and never grant an app permission to retrieve my details and contacts.

It didn’t matter. Any "friend" could tag my name on their own photos, even a photo from 20 years ago, and one can only assume that it puts you into a face recognition database. Anyone could sign up for a game or contest, and in doing so grant access to all their "friends’" information including yours.

The more functions these "assistants" get, the more information they’ll leak about their owners’ contacts and friends. If you phone them and they answer via their "assistant", the manufacturer makes the connection between you and your phone number. Plus any details about you in the owner’s contact list: Address, birthday, school, work, picture, etc. And probably a voice sample, now connected to your identity.

Heck, it’ll probably cheerfully remind them: "It’s Roger’s birthday! Shall I call him?" A reminder made possible by uploading YOUR information – in addition to the owners’ – to the cloud.

Ben (profile) says:

Claim no knowledge

Simple. If I actually wanted to bother visiting the US (no idea why I would), I will simply deny that I have an social media accounts, never use email, and can’t remember phone numbers beyond my current one. (which I rarely answer even when it does ring)
There is simply no justification for this level of intrusion. So I simply won’t intrude upon your soil.

aerinai says:

Who needs tourism jobs anyway...

So I saw this a while back where travel to the US is down 11%, and we are only 4 months into this regime. Let’s see if this trend keeps up, which I expect it will seeing how the laptop and tablet bans on flights are going to go into effect. Add on top of that the xenophobic and racist comments our Incompetent-in-Chief has been making; who would seriously want to come here?

PaulT (profile) says:

Even funnier:

“Have you travelled to any country (other than your country of residence) in the last 15 years? • Yes • No
If yes, provide details for each trip, including locations visited, date visited, source of funds, and length of stay”

…followed by a box that allows for about 2 trips to be written in small type with the information required.

Yes, I know that it doesn’t apply to EU citizens (visa waivers are usually in place, at least for the moment, and we do tend to travel more than the average) and that it states that you should use additional pieces of paper, but this made me chuckle somewhat. No duration limits, no specification of any region, just any travel in 15 years?

Even if I leave off my daily commute across an international border, I’d struggle to collate my business travel alone over the last 15 years in a reasonable amount of space, if I could compile it at all. Add to that I travel at least 3-4 times a year abroad for leisure (even if it’s just to go back to the UK to visit family) and I’d hope that the agent has a lot of room on their desk because they’re getting something approaching the size of a Stephen King novel to work through.

Sure, my situation is rather unusual, but even the poorest Brit can usually afford the cost of a cheap flight to Spain, ferry to Ireland or drive to France enough times in 15 years to not fit the details on that page. It speaks volumes as to the expectations and thought put into the form.

The fact that any would-be terrorist can bypass the social media stuff merely by using anonymous dummy accounts for any suspicious activity is just the icing on the cake.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Even funnier:

How are they going to know if it is not stamped in your passport. You could leave trips off the list, and they would never know, as long as it was not stamped into your passport.

North Korea, for example, does not stamp passports. It stamps the tourist visa, on a separate piece of paper you pick up at any North Korean embassy, and turned in to DPRK officials, so no record in your passport.

If the USA were to ban travel to the DPRK, which has been serious considered a few times if the past couple of years, an American citizen could defy the ban, and not have any stamp in his or her passport, and then just leave it off the list of countries recently visited, and Customs will never be the wiser.

Anonymous Coward says:

Elitists use one vocabulary; the common man a different one.
Elitists have one set of personal body qualities and style; the common man a different set.
Elitists have one set of fundamental beliefs; the common man a different set.

The major problem here is that in the modern words it is considered most impolite in the main stream media who are elitists to use words, ideas, and concepts that explain issues in a format that the common man can understand so the common man blows off what the elitists says as lies. incompetence, theft, and scams. If on the other hand vocabulary is used the common man can understand the elitist throw a hussy-fit in their denunciation of the ideas, concepts, and vocabulary used to explain he issue.

Simply put the common man does not cross the border by airplane.He only crosses by foot, car or bus if he lives along the border.

The reality is that when you are discussing some elitist being inconvenienced by ICE the common man is jumping up and down with joy. On the other hand if you were discussing what happens when some labor crosses the border by buss the elitist would seriously wander if you had taken leave of your senses by discussing such.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Worse than you think (was )

What are they going to do about credentials that give them access to modify other folks’ content? They really haven’t stopped to think about the impact any sort of distributed-moderation platform being considered "social media" would have on the level of access they’re getting…

David says:

Re: Re:

how will they deal with the resulting problems of massive scale identity theft when that database is stolen?

They will announce it to the world. Gives them plausible deniability when they tamper with accounts in order to make sure the judges agree with their choice of sacrificial lambs.

"Ah, look at all the damning evidence! Ah, look at all the damning evidence! Eleanor Rigby, planning a heist in a church where a wedding has been, look at her scheme!"

DannyB (profile) says:

An idea to combat this

FaceTwit could modify their systems to protect you. Your FaceTwit accounts are impossible to access from a GPS location, or an IP address known to belong to government spying (or local law enforcement).

Another possibility is if FaceTwit knew of the approximate times of your encounter with government spies, based on flight information, and it were to make your accounts inaccessible during that time.

All of this would be done by FaceTwit with no action on the part of the user.

Median Wilfred says:

How long do you have to retain those passwords as such?

What’s to prevent you from giving out wrong/”misspelled” accounts and passwords? Or even just changing the password a few days later? I mean, I can’t remember my cell-phone-server-provider’s login page user name or password. I just fumble through the verification once a month. I change the password there far more often than policy requires, because I just don’t bother to know it.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have no social media accounts ,so i guess i,ll go visit another country and spend my money there .
Asking everyone for social media info is likely to put off casual tourists .
is there a phrase first they came for insert minority group name here and you said nothing.
In a few years time i can see any person leaving the usa on a plane having to provide email, social media
info an d it won,t be voluntary.
will there a space on the form to state i,m too lazy
or i have no interest in using facebook or instragram.
America is turning into a 1984 style state where
everyone is been tracked via social media ,smartphones ,email and car license plate scanners 24/7

wendellp (profile) says:

Wait, What?

The text of the article says “….Americans apparently signed away a great deal of their rights in exchange for some national security, resulting in a Constitution-free zone extending inland 100 miles from the nation’s borders. Visitors and visa holders are in for a much more revealing experience upon arrival, although they’ll be on the only ones doing the revealing…”

If “visitors and visa holders are in for a much more revealing experience”, how does this affect the rights of U.S. citizens?

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