US proposal seeks 5 years of social media data from visa applicants

The US government wants to collect social media usernames and email addresses from visa applicants, according to the Department of State. The federal government has been wanting to get its hands on immigrant social media data for years, previously floating the idea of requiring social network accounts as part of the application process, as well as asking some visitors to voluntarily provide the info.

Back in mid-2016, the Department of Homeland Security introduced a proposal that would allow Customs and Border Protection to ask foreign travelers to provide their Instagram and Twitter accounts. Then, in early 2017, now-former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly revealed that the government was considering a new security measure that could require visa applicants and refugees from seven countries to give officials their social media passwords.

Though various measures have been proposed or talked about over the past year, they all center around one thing: social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In the latest development, the State Department has asked for public input on a proposal to require visa applicants to provide their current and former email addresses, as well as their social media usernames.

Information surfaced yesterday in the Federal Register, where documents reveal that the State Department wants to gather social media, email addresses, and phone number data on all visa applicants. This is a change over previous proposals, which limited the "enhanced security" measure to individuals identified as needing additional scrutiny.

Under that limitation, about 65k people would have to give over their social media information. However, applying the requirement to all visa applicants would cover about 15 million people every year. Should the measure be put into place, applicants will need to provide certain social media accounts, email addresses, and phone numbers used over the last five years. In addition, the applicants will be asked to voluntarily provide info on other non-mandatory social networks.

SOURCE: Bloomberg