U.S. border control agents want to gather Facebook and Twitter identities from visitors from around the world. But this flawed plan would violate travelers’ privacy, and would have a wide-ranging impact on freedom of expression—all while doing little or nothing to protect Americans from terrorism.
Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, has proposed collecting social media handles from visitors to the United States from visa waiver countries. EFF submitted comments both individually and as part of a larger coalition opposing the proposal.
CBP specifically seeks “information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier” in order to provide DHS “greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections” for “vetting purposes.”
In our comments, we argue that would-be terrorists are unlikely to disclose social media identifiers that reveal publicly available posts expressing support for terrorism.
But this plan would be more than just ineffective. It’s vague and overbroad, and would unfairly violate the privacy of innocent travelers. Sharing your social media account information often means sharing political leanings, religious affiliations, reading habits, purchase histories, dating preferences, and sexual orientations, among many other personal details.
Or, unwilling to reveal such intimate information to CBP, many innocent travelers would engage in self-censorship, cutting back on their online activity out of fear of being wrongly judged by the U.S. government. After all, it’s not hard to imagine some public social media posts being taken out of context or misunderstood by the government. In the face of this uncertainty, some may forgo visiting the U.S. altogether.