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Last updated: 11:09 AM ET, Thu December 29 2016

Why is The US Now Checking Foreign Travelers' Social Media Accounts?

Impacting Travel Donald Wood December 29, 2016

Why is The US Now Checking Foreign Travelers' Social Media Accounts?

Photo via Thinkstock

On Tuesday, the United States government began requesting that foreign visitors entering the country provide officials with their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts as a way to screen for potential terroristic threats.

According to Politico.com, travelers arriving in the U.S. from other countries on the visa waiver program have been asked to fill out paperwork with an optional request to provide information about their social media presence. The menu asks for information about accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

While the new policy is an attempt by officials to find and deny entry to foreign visitors with possible ties to terrorist groups like the Islamic State, it is also drawing opposition and criticism from companies in the tech industry and those concerned about privacy. Opponents of the new policy believe it could negatively impact free expression and pose new privacy and security risks to foreigners.

“There are very few rules about how that information is being collected, maintained [and] disseminated to other agencies, and there are no guidelines about limiting the government’s use of that information,” American Civil Liberties Union chief of staff Michael W. Macleod-Ball said in a statement. “While the government certainly has a right to collect some information ... it would be nice if they would focus on the privacy concerns some advocacy groups have long expressed.”

Many opponents believe that asking foreign visitors to provide their social media accounts opens them up to privacy risks, especially “Arab and Muslim communities, whose usernames, posts, contacts and social networks will be exposed to intense scrutiny,” according to a letter from the ACLU.

In addition to the impact the new policy will have on travelers entering the U.S., there is also a concern about the precedent it sets for other countries moving forward.

“Democratic and non-democratic countries — including those without the United States’ due process protections — will now believe they are more warranted in demanding social media information from visitors that could jeopardize visitors’ safety,” Internet Association general counsel Abigail Slater said in a statement. “The nature of the DHS’ requests delves into personal information, creating an information dragnet.”