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US government may ask for travellers’ social media details

The US government is seeking permission to request details of travellers’ social media presence

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is seeking input on a proposal to require travellers entering the country using the Visa Waiver Programme to provide details of their social media presence when applying to use the scheme.

Besides details such as passport number, home address and recent travel history, the programme already seeks details of factors such as criminal records or a history of drug abuse, designed to screen out people who may present a threat to the country’s national security.

The addition of a question on social media presence – which would be included when applying for the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) online – has been designed to strengthen the security of the programme, said the DHS, which stressed that the field would likely be optional.

“Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyse and investigate the case,” said the consultation document.

Countries participating in the scheme are required to have have implemented enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the US; to issue e-Passports; to have a visitor visa refusal rate of under 3%; to report blank and lost and stolen passports in a timely manner; and to maintain high counter-terrorism, law enforcement, border control and document security standards, although this is not an exhaustive list.

The proposal would affect tourists from 38 countries including the UK, as well as most European Union (EU) states, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia and New Zealand.

Some business travellers are also allowed to enter the US using the Visa Waiver Programme, for example to consult with business associates, to attend industry conferences, to attend training programmes as long as these are unpaid, or for contract negotiations. They would also be affected by the changes if enforced.

According to US government statistics, 4.3 million Britons entered the US using the Visa Waiver Programme in 2014.

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How effective is it going to be in screening out those involved in “nefarious activity?” That’s like asking someone if they are in the US illegally when they fill out a 4473.
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