We’ve written a lot in the past about China’s scary use of modern technology. In particular, we’ve been frightened by the authoritarian social credit score it gives all Chinese citizens and the limits it places on those with low scores. It is easy to think, because China is so far away, that it isn’t really something we should worry about at home. But what makes China’s actions so scary is that they could easily be taken up in other countries by other governments. First, they came for the Chinese…
Well, now it seems that these draconian types of laws have just taken a huge step closer to home as the U.S. State Department has just made a rather chilling announcement.
All Visa applicants to the US will have to hand over all of their social media and email details from the last five years
Anybody planning to visit or migrate to the U.S. on any kind of visa now has to give the State Department all of their social media usernames, previous email addresses, and phone numbers from the previous five years. According to the Associated Press, the move was first proposed in March 2018, but has only just taken effect after the new forms, including the new “social media identifiers” requests, were approved.
The new move marks a huge expansion of the Trump administration’s screening procedures for anybody coming to the U.S. Until this recent move, these types of requests were only made to people who’d been flagged as needing extra attention. These flags could come from a number of reasons including traveling to areas controlled by terrorist organizations. The AP reports that around 65,000 applicants fell into this category each year, but that now almost 15 million visa applicants, mostly for non-immigrant visas, will be required to hand over their social media details.
The new visa forms will list the most prominent social networks, but applicants will also be prompted to include the details for any other networks that aren’t explicitly mentioned. As yet, there are no details on how the State Department will ensure details of all accounts have been included in applications but speaking to The Hill, a State Department spokesperson warned of “serious immigration consequences” for those caught not complying. These consequences could potentially include visa withdrawal and refused entry.
As well as the scary implications that come from the U.S. government doing its best China impression, there is also the huge potential risk that comes from compiling such huge amounts of personal data in one place. We’ve seen time and time again, huge data breaches that have put user privacy and security at risk and as ZDNet points out, U.S. Customs doesn’t exactly have a flawless record when it comes to data protection. A report in December showed that border agents hadn’t been deleting the data they’d collected from personal electronic device searches.
We’re not just walking down a scary path with this one, it also seems like a disaster waiting to happen at any moment.