U.S. border begins asking foreign travelers for social media profiles

Foreign visitors to the United States will be asked to provide Customs and Border Protection agents with access to their social media accounts upon arrival in the country.

The plan to begin requesting social media information from foreign travelers on the visa waiver program sparked intense criticism from within the tech industry and among civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

A chief concern for the ACLU is that there are few rules governing the collection process, the group told Politico, suggesting the information may be disseminated to other agencies due to the fact that there are virtually no guidelines about limiting the information’s use.

The scrutinization of social media by border control agents arose following the San Bernardino killings in California last year. Customs says the policy is meant to identify potential terrorism threats; however, the ACLU and the Center for Democracy and Technology have expressed concerns that Arab and Muslim visitors may be unfairly targeted.

For now, surrendering social media information is voluntary, though as some consumer privacy groups have noted, the process for entering the country without a visa is complex and many visitors will likely be unaware of its discretionary nature.

As the Guardian notes, the U.S. had more than 77.5 million foreign visitors last year: “Collecting social media accounts for all visitors could produce one of the largest government-controlled databases of its kind almost overnight.” 

Dell Cameron

Dell Cameron

Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.