The controversial January 27 executive order from President Donald Trump banning travel from seven Muslim-Majority countries will likely intensify screening the social media accounts of foreign visitors traveling between those countries and the United States.
White House policy director Stephen Miller said to officials of the State Department, Customs and Border Patrol, and the Department of Homeland Security on January 28 that the administration is beginning to discuss the possibility of requiring foreign visitors to disclose all websites and social media accounts. The social media posts of Tashfeen Malik, one of the perpetrators of the 2015 San Bernardino, are said to influence this discussion.
Days prior to the executive order, the Center for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, filed ten legal complaints over aggressive interrogations by Customs and Border Patrol agents, which included border agents asking American-Muslim travelers for access to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.
Proponents of the policy argue that it is simply a modernization of the pre-existing authority of border agents to conduct searches. Moreover, they argue that since terror organizations have made heavy use of social media to recruit and fundraise, these social media screenings may help deny entrance to individuals with terrorist affiliations or strong hostility towards American values. Opponents argue that a social media search is even more intrusive than searching a traveler’s physical belongings because of how much of people share their personal and professional lives on social media.
The government has recently implemented other policies in favor of disclosing social media content. Since December 20, 2016, foreign travelers arriving in the United States on the visa waiver program have faced an optional request, on the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, to provide information about their online presence. A drop-down menu lists social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube, and a space to provide their account names on those sites. The Obama administration implemented this policy despite protests from the Internet Association, which represents companies including Facebook and Google, and consumer advocacy groups.
Jake Tapper, “White House discussing asking foreign visitors for social media info and cell phone contacts” CNN (January 30, 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/29/politics/donald-trump-immigrant-policy-social-media-contacts/
Russel Brandom, “Trump’s Executive Order Spurs Facebook and Twitter Checks at the Border,” CNBC (January 30, 2017), http://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/30/trumps-executive-order-spurs-facebook-and-twitter-checks-at-the-border.html
“CAIR-FL Files 10 Complaints with CBP After the Agency Targetted and Questioned American Muslims About Religious and Political Views,” CAIR Florida, (January 18, 2017), https://www.cairflorida.org/newsroom/press-releases/720-cair-fl-files-10-complaints-with-cbp-after-the-agency-targeted-and-questioned-american-muslims-about-religious-and-political-views.html
Tony Romm, “U.S. Government Begins Asking Foreign Travelers About Social Media,” Politico (December 22, 2016), http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/foreign-travelers-social-media-232930.