CBP: Travelers’ social media could spotlight potential ‘nefarious activity’


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Travelers entering the United States might be soon asked in a form to provide their social media accounts, according to a Thursday notice in the Federal Register.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is asking for agency and public comment on adding an additional question to a required form for some U.S. visitors. The new field would state: “Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.”

The question would be added to The Electronic System for Travel Authorization, known as ESTA, and to Form I-94W, according to the notice. People entering the U.S. under a Visa Waiver Program are required to provide information to CBP through ESTA to be authorized for travel before coming to the U.S.

The data field on the forms would be optional, according to the notice.

“Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process,” the notice said, “and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use.”

The new data field, if added, would be used for “vetting purposes,” and as “applicant contact information,” according to the notice.

“The concern is how this information will be used,” said Chris Calabrese, vice president for policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “We’ve seen circumstances where totally innocent behavior and tweets have been used to deny people entry to the United States.”

As an example, Calabrese cited a 2012 story of two British tourists who were detained, barred from U.S. entry and sent home after one of them posted a tweet that said: “Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?” according to a Daily Mail post at the time. Destroy is British slang for partying.

The initial question that will need to be answered, Calabrese said, is training. 

“Are people going to be trained as to what they should do with someone’s social media?” he questioned.

Calabrese said it will also be important to find out if the information would be shared with other agencies or used for other purposes.

Other recent changes to ESTA and Form I-94W include additional questions about what countries travelers have been to on or after March 1, 2011, what countries of which they are citizens/nationals or for which they hold passports, and what is their Global Entry Number.

The CBP did not comment on the notice.

The public has until August 22, 2016, to comment on the proposed change.

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data analytics, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Departments, State Department, Tech, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)