Social media has become such an important means of communication that it is not unheard of for employers to assess their potential employees using their social media activity.
The US government may be about to get in on the action if a recently released draft Visa waiver form is anything to go by.
In the contact information section of the draft form, one of the fields to be completed is, ‘Social Media Identifier’. This translates to names and handles used on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Despite federal government claims that the move could help to screen individuals with potential connection to terrorism, it is not only the terrorists who are feeling nervous about this potential change.
These recent developments come after Congress passed a bill which called for more restrictions in the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) last year in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris. When the issue was first proposed, it was said that provision of the information would be optional but the leaked document seems to suggest that providing this information will be mandatory.
According to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), this information can help to prevent potential criminal acts. These comments come in the wake of shootings in the US and abroad where some of the perpetrators had posted suggestive comments on social media long before the actual attacks.
Campaigners for privacy have however not taken the news positively. An open letter has already been sent to Homeland Security asking the body to remove the changes to the form. The letter, from a coalition of privacy rights groups, argues that the amendments would infringe on people’s privacy and curb free expression and that it would also cost a lot of money without doing much to improve the security situation.
At the moment, with the exception of 38 countries that have a Visa Waiver Programme with the US, visitors from other countries have to apply for a Visa before coming to the US.
Even the citizens of the aforementioned 38 countries have to make an application 72 hours before they arrive, via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) scheme.
If the changes were to be implemented, what would it mean for people wanting to travel to the US in the future? First of all, it would mean that most visitors would have to clean up their social media act. There have been several incidents where individuals were denied entry to the US on what many would term flimsy grounds. Access to the information people put up on their social media accounts during drunken nights out is likely to open a can of worms for many.
On social media, many people adopt a ‘shoot first ask questions later’ mentality. In the past few years, there have been many cases of people getting in trouble with the authorities, employers and other groups for a wayward tweet or two. Should the CBP gain access to the kind of information people post on their social media accounts in the heat of the moment, there are likely to be even more visa denials in the future.
Although the CBP claims social media identifiers can help provide information which can assist in the processing of ESTA applications, the question must be asked of whether this may provide the government with too much information or at the very least give customs officials flimsy grounds on which to deny ordinary individuals