Consumer groups blast DHS head for seeking travelers' social media passwords

Consumer groups blast DHS head for seeking travelers' social media passwords
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

A coalition of consumer advocacy groups is calling on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to oppose requiring foreign nationals to provide their social media passwords to enter the U.S.

In February, DHS Secretary John Kelly floated the idea of forcing citizens of certain countries to hand over their passwords as part of “enhanced vetting measures” supported by the Trump administration.

Earlier in April, The Wall Street Journal reported that the DHS was moving forward with similar policies. Last year, the agency also began to ask visa applicants to voluntarily provide links to their social media accounts. According to the report, the program wouldn’t just be limited to high-risk countries that Kelly mentioned in the hearing such as Somalia and Syria, but also major U.S. allies like France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

"We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say?" he said during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing. "If they don't want to cooperate, then you don't come in."

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Nathan White, senior legislative director at Access Now, one of the 29 organizations involved in the coalition, critiqued Kelly’s rationale in an emailed statement.

“Even if you support ‘extreme vetting,’ password for entry is an extremely bad idea that sacrifices privacy and digital security for political posturing and ‘security theater,' " White said.

The groups, which also include the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Daily Kos and Center for Media Justice are trying to solicit signatures for a letter to Kelly protesting collecting foreign nationals' passwords.

Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future, another member organization of the coalition, argued that Kelly’s initiative wouldn’t get the results he wanted.

"Asking people to hand over the passwords to their accounts will make all of us less safe, not more safe,” Greer said.

“Not only does it undermine our basic right to privacy and have a chilling effect on free speech, but it will inevitably make our information more vulnerable to hackers, identity thieves, and stalkers. Targeting people for this type of surveillance based on their religion or country of origin is clearly a form of discrimination," she added.

Kelly's proposal has also met opposition from some lawmakers. Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenOvernight Tech: Black lawmakers press Uber on diversity | Google faces record EU fine | Snap taps new lobbyist | New details on FCC cyberattack FCC chairman reveals new details about cyberattack following John Oliver segment Election hacking fears turn heat on Homeland Security MORE (D-Ore.) in February blasted Kelly's calls for passwords. Wyden called Kelly's proposal "deeply troubling, particularly in light of [Kelly's] recent comments suggesting that [Customs and Border Protection] might begin demanding social media passwords from visitors to the United States."