Privacy Issues of U.S. Collection of Social Media Information from Visa Applicants

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Department of State ( DOS ) has been collecting ( and maintaining ) information on social media use from all visa applicants ( immigrant and non-immigrant ) since June 2019. The DOS ’ s collection and alimony of this information is the subjugate of a lawsuit .
Two common DOS forms, the DS-160 ( Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application ) and DS-260 ( Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration ), require applicants to identify and provide user names for any of approximately 20 social media accounts ( including the most popular ones ) that they have used in preceding five years. The forms besides ask, “ Do you wish to provide information about your presence on any early websites or applications you have used within the last five years to create or share capacity ( photos, videos, condition updates, etc. ) ? ” Although that interrogate appears to be optional, a “ No ” answer appears to show up as a “ No ” to the interview, not a “ No ” to the option — further complicating responses.

With this new information, the DOS, in real clock, will have a detailed picture of the applicants ’ views and associations. many questions have been raised about how this information will be used. These include :

  • Will the DOS deny cases based upon perceptions of the applicant’s views as expressed on social media?
  • Is DOS looking for clues about possible criminal activities (such as substance abuse) or health-related issues (such as alcoholism)?
  • Is the DOS looking for evidence of political organizing or affiliation with various political or social groups?
  • How broadly is the DOS sharing this information with other government agencies and even foreign governments?

Despite claims of being part of the vet work, concerns about privacy and pervert of information stay. While DOS could search the internet and social media channels for public information concerning visa applicants and use that information to validate applications or raise extra questions as appropriate, the information obtained from DS-160 and DS-260 Forms dramatically facilitate those efforts. A set of FAQs issued by DOS over a year ago attempted to address these concerns :

Is this just a way to profile individuals by their religion, political views, or race?

consular officers can not deny visas based on applicants ’ race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender, or sexual orientation. The collection of social media identifiers is reproducible with this. This information will be used for identity solution and to determine whether the applicant is eligible for a U.S. visa under U.S. police. Visa ineligibilities are set away in U.S. police. consular officers will not request user passwords and will not attempt to subvert any privacy controls applicants may have implemented on these platforms.

Could the collection of this information be considered an invasion of privacy?

No. The same safeguards and confidentiality provisions that already protect a visa applicant ’ s personal data besides apply to social media identifiers and all other newly collected information related to a visa application or adjudication. consular officers will not request drug user passwords nor will they have any ability to modify privacy controls applicants may have implemented on these platforms. Maintaining full-bodied screening standards for visa applicants is a dynamic drill that must adapt to emerging threats. We already request specify contact information, travel history, family penis information, and previous addresses from all visa applicants. Collecting this extra information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting applicants and confirming their identity. consular officers would only use this information to determine the applicant ’ south eligibility for a visa under existing U.S. jurisprudence .
information obtained from social media may not constantly be accurate, arrant, or entirely in context, and minor, accidental mistakes on politics forms could provide a footing to deny an application. furthermore, individuals are becoming more sensitive about their privacy. For model, under the California Consumer Privacy Act ( CCPA ), which became effective in January 2020, California residents have a right to know what categories of personal data covered organizations collect, why they collect it, the categories of sources they get it from, and the categories of third parties it is disclosed to. Visa applicants may have many of the like questions.

Digital privacy and government surveillance are growing concerns in America. A Pew Research Institute survey found that more than 80 percentage of Americans feel a miss of dominance over the digital personal data that the politics collects about them, and potential risks of collecting that data outweigh the benefits. The DOS ’ s solicitation and sustenance of information on social media use from visa applicants calls into interview fundamental U.S. privacy principles .
In December 2019, an organization of documentary filmmakers, along with Columbia University ’ sulfur Knight First Amendment Institute and the Brennan Centre for Justice, filed suit in federal court seeking an injunction and challenging this fresh “ digital surveillance government that enables the U.S. government to monitor visa applicants ’ constitutionally protected language and affiliation not good at the time they apply for visa, but tied after they enter the United States. ” The constitution relies on social media to share message, pull back care to human rights abuses, and facilitate partnerships and fundraising for social department of justice impact campaigns. The plaintiffs contend that the collection of this data chills First Amendment rights and causes applicants to engage in self-censorship by deleting content, avoiding post, and simply not applying for visa to come to United States to engage in collaborations. They besides contend that stripping applicants of anonymity by requiring the disclosure of pseudonym may tied put applicants in risk — if the information is shared with authoritarian governments. recently, sociable media companies have filed amicus briefs in the event contending that the surrender of anonymity “ violates the First Amendment rights to speak anonymously and associate privately. ”
Visa applicants may want to seek advice regarding their social media use. failure to disclose or misrepresentation on the application forms could lead to serious consequences and is not an option. It is authoritative to review social media content to determine whether admissibility issues might be raised .

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