So we’re finally checking the social media accounts of some foreign travelers

posted at 10:01 am on December 23, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

In case you weren’t already aware of it, the United States has a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in place which allows certain foreign travelers from select “friendly” countries to come to America without having to obtain a visa first. That doesn’t mean that we’re not scrutinizing them (or at least we’re supposed to) and asking some questions. Starting this past Tuesday our government has begun asking these visitors to include details about their social media accounts when they apply for eligibility under the program. (Politico)

The U.S. government quietly began requesting that select foreign visitors provide their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts upon arriving in the country, a move designed to spot potential terrorist threats that drew months of opposition from tech giants and privacy hawks alike.

Since Tuesday, foreign travelers arriving in the United States on the visa waiver program have been presented with an “optional” request to “enter information associated with your online presence,” a government official confirmed Thursday. The prompt includes a drop-down menu that lists platforms including Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube, as well as a space for users to input their account names on those sites.

I somehow doubt that our regular readers will be shocked to learn that certain advocacy groups such as the ACLU are up in arms over this.

“There are very few rules about how that information is being collected, maintained [and] disseminated to other agencies, and there are no guidelines about limiting the government’s use of that information,” said Michael W. Macleod-Ball, chief of staff for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office. “While the government certainly has a right to collect some information … it would be nice if they would focus on the privacy concerns some advocacy groups have long expressed.”

Privacy concerns?” Are you serious?

First of all, we’re talking about the vetting process for people who are being allowed to visit the country without going through the normal visa program. The fact that such a program even exists in the age of international terrorism is questionable enough. (It applies to visitors from 38 different countries we place more trust in and they can’t have visited any nations with significant terrorist issues since 2011. You can find a list of applicable nations at the link.) That’s asking a lot of us to begin with so I’m not terribly concerned about their “privacy concerns” when it comes to their social media accounts. The bigger question is why we waited so long to start doing it. If we can turn up a few tweets with their friends in ISIS and stop them from simply waltzing in the door unimpeded this is a very good thing.

But even if you’re talking about American citizens I still find this question to be ludicrous and I’ve written about it here before. Nobody is invading the privacy of your person or your papers. This is information which people freely and openly post on the equivalent of a public bulletin board for all to see. And when we say “all” in this case, that includes domestic law enforcement and our immigration services. If you don’t want your private information being looked over, don’t post it on the web.

Rather than fighting this program, we need to be looking at expanding it. Just imagine if somebody from one of these nations turns out to be qualified for the VWP and winds up being an undetected, radicalized ISIS supporter who goes on to murder somebody. If they had some Death to America Facebook posts sitting out there which we didn’t catch, we’re going to wind up looking extremely foolish for not thinking to check that out.

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