According to U.S. authorities, foreign visitors could soon be asked about their social media (Facebook, Twitter) presence before being allowed to enter the country.
The move is part of a renewed drive to prevent terrorism and was discovered in a proposal submitted by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol last week. Non-citizens who travel to the U.S. on the visa waiver program may soon be subject to screening of their Facebook, Twitter and other social media profiles, although they will not be asked to hand over passwords.
Border agents to screen Facebook, Twitter profiles
While foreign travelers are already checked against databases and sometimes subject to in-person interviews, the collection of social media account data is directly aimed at discovering threats to “national security,” according to the proposal.
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“Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity,” the proposal said. Although the proposal reveals that CBP is looking into the use of social media in terror activities, some have questioned how effective the new policy will be.
Recent mass killings in San Bernardino and Orlando were carried out by killers who displayed a good understanding of social media. Messages of support for Islamic State were posted on the profiles of both the California attackers and Omar Mateen, who was responsible for the Orlando shooting which left 49 people dead.
Tech companies deny lackadaisical attitude to terror
Social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook have come in for criticism for allowing posts that encourage support for terror groups. One family who lost a relative in the Paris terror attacks has even filed a lawsuit against Facebook, Google and Twitter, accusing the companies of allowing Islamic State to spread propaganda and attract new recruits for terror attacks.
Facebook denies that this is the case. “We work aggressively to remove such content as soon as we become aware of it,” a statement at the time read.
Twitter also said that it hands down permanent bans to users that promote terrorism. “We condemn the use of Twitter to promote terrorism and the Twitter Rules make it clear that this type of behavior, or any violent threat, is not permitted on our service,” read a Twitter statement.
Opinion split over effectiveness of proposal
Pressure is growing for tech companies to do more in the fight against terrorism. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., proposed a bill that would see tech companies forced to report online terrorist activity to authorities.
“We’re in a new age where terrorist groups like ISIL are using social media to reinvent how they recruit and plot attacks,” Feinstein said in a press release. “That information can be the key to identifying and stopping terrorist recruitment or a terrorist attack, but we need the help from technology companies.”
According to Max Abrahms, professor of political science at Northeastern University, the effort to track IS activity online may not amount to much. He says that the power of the group is drawn from territorial gains, whereas social media is only used to trumpet victories.
“I think that this entire initiative of trying to combat IS by becoming more savvy online is mistaken,” Abrahms said.
However Ira Mehlman, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said that he supports the collection of social media account details at U.S. borders. Mehlman said that immigration officers are supposed to detect potential threats to safety and social media could be a good indicator.
“For the most part your social media profile is public record,” Mehlman added. “Anybody can look to anybody’s Facebook page, you can see what’s on there, and you don’t need permission.”