New proposal would ask foreign travelers for social media info

Foreigners traveling to the United States without a visa would be asked to provide the government with their social media handles under a new proposal from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The optional question on arrival and departure forms would ask about a traveler’s “social media identifier," but not passwords. People could leave it blank. The extra information would be used for vetting and contact information, according to the proposal. 

“Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide [the Department of Homeland Security] greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case,” according to the proposal

The proposed change was published in the Federal Register on Thursday, giving the public 60 days to comment.

The change would apply to arrival and departure forms that most foreigners traveling to the United States without a visa must fill out. The change would also apply to foreign nationals traveling through the visa waiver program, which was recently updated after terror attacks last year in Paris. 

The visa waiver program allows citizens from 38 countries to travel to the United States for business or vacation for up to 90 days without first getting a visa. 

It was recently updated to bar people from using the expedited program if they recently traveled to Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Sudan or Syria. There are some limited exceptions. 

In recent years, the government has keyed in on social media as a valuable tool and has partially blamed it for the spread and recruitment of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

Realizing social media holds a cache of important information, the government has begun incorporating social media during background checks of employees looking to obtain security clearance. 

At the moment, the government does not require employees to hand over their social media handles during security clearance reviews, because officials say it could skirt the line of civil liberties. 

Some lawmakers have questioned that. 

“What would be the negative of just asking, hey, do you post online under any type of pseudonym?” asked Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) during a hearing last month.