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. Shortly thereafter, the Brennan Center, joined by 56 other civil and human rights organizations, submitted comments to the Department on the proposed plan. As described in the comments, the agency’s collection of additional information will undermine First Amendment rights of speech, expression, and association. The proposed plan, 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. The data collection will also facilitate the bulk mining and wide-ranging use of information about travelers and U.S. citizens. 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.
On August 28, the State Department indicated it had submitted the proposed information collection initiative for review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). In response, the Brennan Center sent a letter on September 27 urging OIRA to deny the State Department’s proposal. The letter reiterates the previous objections from the submitted comments and flags several points of interest for OIRA in its review of the proposal. The letter highlights that absent an explicit mandate to collect social media information, the State Department lacks the legislative grounding to proceed with this constitutionally suspect collection. Additionally, the letter raises the concern that visa policies are often reciprocal: if the U.S. government conditions entry to the U.S. on the provision of social media information, other countries will demand the same of Americans. Implementing the State Department’s proposed collection initiative could result in U.S. citizens having to turn over sensitive information to foreign governments without the privacy protections afforded by American law.
Read the comments submitted to the State Department
Read the letter to OIRA