The State Department is now requiring that nearly all visa applicants to the U.S. submit their social media details including usernames, email addresses and phone numbers.
The move, described by AP as a “vast expansion of the Trump administration’s enhanced screening of potential immigrants and visitors,” is expected to affect about 15 million foreigners who apply for visas to enter the United States each year.
Previously, social media, email and phone number histories had only been sought from applicants identified for extra scrutinies, such as people who had traveled to areas controlled by terrorist organizations.
An estimated 65,000 applicants per year had fallen into that category.
Immigrant and non-immigrant visa forms have been updated to request the additional information, including “social media identifiers,” from almost all applicants.
A State Department official told CNN that the new policy was borne from a memorandum issued by President Donald Trump in 2017, which called for the development of a “uniform baseline for screening and vetting standards and procedures.”
In a statement on the updated rules, the department says collecting the additional information from more applicants “will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.”
“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening,” the department said.
“We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.”
The new visa application forms list a number of social media platforms — including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube and Weibo — and require the applicant to provide any account names they may have had on them over the previous five years.
They also give applicants the option to volunteer information about social media accounts on platforms not listed on the form.
In addition to their social media histories, visa applicants are now asked for five years of previously used telephone numbers, email addresses, international travel and deportation status, as well as whether any family members have been involved in terrorist activities.
Only applicants for certain diplomatic and official visa types are exempted from the requirements.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project, said there was no evidence social media monitoring was effective and that it could have a "chilling" effect on freedom of speech and promote self-censorship online.
"This attempt to collect a massive amount of information on the social media activity of millions of visa applicants is yet another ineffective and deeply problematic Trump administration plan," she said in a statement.
"There is a real risk that social media vetting will unfairly target immigrants and travelers from Muslim-majority countries for discriminatory visa denials, without doing anything to protect national security."
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