The Brennan Center, joined by 34 other civil and human rights organizations, today submitted comments to the U.S. Department of State on its plan to collect additional information from U.S. visa applicants who are determined to warrant additional scrutiny from consular officials pursuant to undisclosed criteria. The proposed collection implements the president’s March 6, 2017 executive order banning travel from six predominantly Muslim countries, and would ask designated applicants for information including their social media handles and 15 years of travel and employment history.
As an initial matter, the State Department requested emergency review for its proposal, which significantly compresses the timeline for the public to submit comments. However, the Department has not provided an adequate justification for triggering this expedited process.
In addition, the Brennan Center believes that this proposed collection is excessively burdensome and vague, is apt to chill speech, is discriminatory against Muslims, and has no security benefit. While the State Department says that the proposed collection of travel history is essential to national security, it will be extremely difficult to comply with, possibly dissuading applicants from trying to obtain visas and penalizing applicants who are unable to provide comprehensive information. The State Department’s collection of social media handles is problematic as well; communications and non-verbal information on social media is notoriously difficult to interpret, and both applicants and their U.S. contacts are likely to self-censor to avoid becoming targets of scrutiny.
Lastly, this proposal arises in the context of political rhetoric and a set of policies suggesting intent to target Muslims. The administration – stymied in its efforts to directly ban travel from six predominantly Muslim countries on constitutional grounds – may be trying to implement the same policy through its vetting procedures.
The Brennan Center has previously submitted comments to the Department of Homeland Security regarding its plan to collect social media information from travelers seeking entry to the United States, and joined a coalition letter criticizing DHS Secretary John Kelly’s proposal to collect social media passwords from visitors to the country.
See the Brennan Center’s comments here.