US to seek social media details from certain visa applicants

US to seek social media details from certain visa applicants

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WASHINGTON (TIP): The US state department wants to review social 
media, email addresses and phone numbers from some foreigners seeking US
 visas, as part of the Trump administration‘s enhanced screening of potential immigrants and visitors.

The department, in a notice published on Thursday in the Federal 
Register, said it was seeking public comment on the requirement. But it 
also said is requesting a temporary go-ahead from the White House budget
 office so the plan can take effect for 180 days, beginning May 18, 
regardless of those public comments.

The proposed requirements would apply to visa applicants identified 
for extra scrutiny, such as those who have traveled to areas controlled 
by terrorist organizations. The state department said it estimates that 
the rules would affect about 0.5 percent of total US visa applicants, or
 roughly 65,000 people.

Affected applicants would have to provide their social media handles 
and platforms used during the previous five years, and divulge all phone
 numbers and email addresses used during that period. US consular 
officials would not seek social media passwords, and would not try to 
breach any privacy controls on applicants’ accounts, according to the 
department’s notice.

Since last year, immigration officials have sought social media 
information from some foreigners arriving at US border checkpoints, but 
that information had not previously been required on visa applications.

The new rules also would require applicants to provide 15 years of 
travel and work history and the names and dates of birth of all 
siblings, children and current and former spouses or partners. Visa 
applicants are now generally asked for only five years of travel and 
work history and are not asked for information about their siblings. The
 state department said it wanted the additional information “in order to
 more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.”

The proposal follows a March directive from the state department for 
all US embassies and consulates to draw up criteria for “population 
sets” needing extra scrutiny before receiving US visas.

Social media snags

Immigration lawyers and advocates say the request for 15 years of 
detailed biographical information, as well as the expectation that 
applicants remember all their social media handles, is likely to catch 
visa applicants who make innocent mistakes or do not remember all the 
information requested.

They also question whether the time-consuming screening can achieve 
its intended goal of identifying potential terrorists. “The more 
effective tactics are the methods that we currently use to monitor 
terrorist organizations, not just stumbling into the terrorist who is 
dumb enough to post on his Facebook page ‘I am going to blow up something in the United States,'” said John Sandweg, a former senior official at the department of homeland security, or DHS.

Because reviewing social media information is so labor intensive, 
several pilot programs have experimented with automation. But a DHS 
inspector general report concluded in February that the technology has 
so far proven flawed and required humans to ensure accuracy, leaving 
most of the checks to be done manually.

Applicants may not necessarily be denied a visa if they fail to 
provide all the information if it is determined they can provide a 
“credible explanation”, the notice said.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson first introduced similar measures in
 a March cable to American consular officers that outlined questions 
officers should now ask in order to tighten vetting of US visa 

But Tillerson had to withdraw that guidance in a cable just days 
later, writing to officers worldwide that the OMB had not approved those
 specific questions.

The state department estimated that the additional screening measures
 would take approximately an hour per applicant, meaning an additional 
65,000 additional hours of work per year.

Tillerson’s cables anticipated delays as a result of their implementation.

“Somebody’s got to do the work,” said Greg Siskind, an immigration 
attorney in Memphis. “It’s going to cause operations at a lot of 
consulates slow to a crawl.” (Agencies)


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