Government Requesting Social Media Information from Traveler

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WESLACO - The federal government started asking select foreign travelers coming into the U.S. to share their social media activities.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection are asking applicants of an I-94 or visa waiver to voluntarily provide their social media handles or usernames.

The agency said the information found in social media accounts can tell a lot about a person. CBP says they will use the information to validate legitimate travel and identify potential threats.

The change only applies to persons traveling to the U.S. under the visa waiver program.

Attorney Gregorio Lopez said the agency added a single question to their screening. He said those applying won’t be required to fill out the social media question.

However, he said some applicants might feel pressured to.

“Maybe the consequences of a denial are pretty substantial. They could be coming for a special event, they could be coming to meet with someone, maybe they want to meet with a university for education opportunities or employment opportunities,” he said. “That foreigner really just wants to give all the information that they can to limit the possibility of getting a denial, and in doing so – in my opinion – they’re giving up way too much information.”

The attorney informed people won’t be denied entry into the U.S. if they refuse to provide their social media account information.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to know how privacy will be respected for those who decide to provide the information. They responded in the following statement that CBP remains committed to protecting the privacy, civil rights and civil liberties of all travelers. 

“Following Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) added an optional question to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application requesting the voluntary submission of an applicant’s social media account identifiers. The question was added as part of the agency’s efforts to enhance the vetting of travelers to the United States.  Information found in social media may be used to review ESTA applications to validate legitimate travel, adjudicate VWP ineligibility waivers, and identify potential threats. 

“CBP remains committed to protecting the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of all travelers.  CBP will handle the voluntarily-provided social media identifiers in the same manner as other information collected through ESTA and has documented these procedures in the newly updated System of Notice Records Notice and Privacy Impact Assessment available at dhs.gov/privacy.” 

Link: DHS Proposed Additional Question to ESTA and Form I-94W


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