US gov OKs social media background checks for visa applicants

The US government has approved social media background checks applied to individuals applying for a visa, it has been announced. The controversial move will require visa applicants to provide a list of their social media handles from the past half-decade, as well as 'biographical information' from the past 15 years. The decision to approve this new vetting method was made by the Office of Management and Budget.

This isn't the first time we've heard about the social media background checks, with the plan having first been opened to a public commenting period. The vetting plan is controversial for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that many believe it will ultimately be a waste of time, with applicants avoiding social media in light of the new process or failing to disclose any accounts that may show them in an unsavory light.

The invasion into privacy will also discourage some applicants from applying for visas, including potential students and professionals in certain important fields, such as the sciences. As well, picking through five years' worth of social media posts across multiple platforms all but ensures that wait times will be longer as the time it takes to process each applicant increases.

This means, for example, that an applicant from anywhere in the world will need to provide links to their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media accounts. These applicants will also need to turn over their phone numbers and email addresses used in the last five years, while their past travel history, employment, and home addresses will need to be provided from the last fifteen years.

It doesn't appear that this information will be required in every case, however, as the State Department said it will be used in instances where 'such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting.' While applicants can refuse to provide this information, failing to do so may result in the visa application being rejected.

SOURCE: Reuters