Brennan Center Urges State Department to Abandon the Collection of Social Media and Other Data from Visa Applicants
The Brennan Center, joined by 56 other civil and human rights organizations, today submitted comments to the U.S. Department of State on its plan to collect additional information, such as social media identifiers, telephone numbers, and email addresses used in the past five years from U.S. visa applicants
The undersigned organizations write to urge the Department of State to withdraw the agency’s proposed information collection under Public Notices 10260 and 10261. By notices published March 30, 2018, the Department of State proposed to ask visa applicants to provide social media identifiers, telephone numbers, and email addresses used in the past five years, among other information. Proposals by the federal government to use social media to make adverse visa determinations have been consistently opposed by privacy, civil liberties, civil rights, and other civil society groups. And the government’s own studies have not produced evidence that social media screening programs work.
The current proposed revisions will undermine First Amendment rights of speech, expression, and association. The proposal, if implemented, will reveal private information about travelers that is irrelevant to their suitability for entry to the United States, and will expose data about their families, friends and business associates in the U.S. Further, the context in which these policies are being developed – and the methods used to examine what is collected – suggest that they will be implemented in ways that discriminate on the basis of national origin, religion, or ideology. Lastly, the data collection will facilitate the bulk mining and wide-ranging use of information about travelers and U.S. citizens, including for purposes beyond those articulated in the Public Notices, amplifying the concerns above. These drawbacks are in exchange for speculative national security benefits, especially considering the vanishingly small number of vetting failures that have permitted foreign-born persons to commit terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.