DOS Proposed Rules on Social Media Data Collection from U.S. Immigrant Nonimmigrant Visa Applicants Draw Public Criticism

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Dallas, TX (Law Firm Newswire) July 12, 2018 – The U.S. Department of State (DOS) has proposed new rules under which all visa applicants seeking to enter the United States will be required to submit social media details. The proposal will affect around 14.7 million people who apply for immigrant and nonimmigrant U.S. visas each year.

Under the new rules, visa applicants will be asked to provide all the social media handles they have used in the past five years, and to submit the email addresses and phone numbers they have used during that period.

The mandatory social media data collection is part of the Trump administration’s increased scrutiny of immigrants and nonimmigrants seeking admission into the United States. The proposal was open for a 60-day public comment period that began on March 30, 2018. A number of privacy and civil rights groups have criticized the new requirements.

“There is a balance to be drawn between thorough vetting of U.S. visa applicants and privacy concerns coupled with the risk of discrimination arising out of storing and data mining information,” said Stewart Rabinowitz of the Dallas and Frisco law firm of Rabinowitz & Rabinowitz, P.C. “Even though the individual visa applicants have chosen to place information out on social media, how the government will interpret it is unclear and may not have any actual relevance to visa issuance determinations.”

Forty-eight organizations — including the Brennan Center for Justice, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Government Accountability Project, Human Rights Watch, Muslim Justice League, National Immigration Law Center and World Privacy Forum — signed a letter opposing the social media data collection proposal. The letter was sent to the DOS Bureau of Consular Affairs Visa Office on May 29, 2018.

The organizations cited a lack of evidence indicating social media screening programs serve as effective deterrents to national security threats, describing the purported benefits as “speculative” at best. They also voiced their concerns about data-mining and discrimination “on the basis of national origin, religion, or ideology.” The letter said the new rules would “undermine First Amendment rights” along with divulging private information about the visa applicants’ friends, relatives and business contacts in the United States.

The DOS has been collecting social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers since 2016 from select U.S. visa applicants, such as individuals who have traveled to regions known to have a terrorist presence. Applicants traveling to the United States on diplomatic or official visas are likely to be exempted from the new social media data collection rules.

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