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Visa Applicants To The U.S. May Require Handing Over Their Social Media Details

Visa Applicants To The U.S. May Require Handing Over Their Social Media Details
Everyone who are looking to get a visa into the United States would now potentially hand over their social media details to the U.S. administration, according to a plan announced by the Trump administration. 
All of the details of their Facebook and Twitter accounts would have to be handed over by most visa applicants into the U.S. according to a proposal which was made by the state department of the country. All of the social media identities of such applicants for the previous five years would have to be disclosed. 
It is estimated that this proposal, if implemented, would impact about 14.7 million people a year.
Identification and vetting of those applications seeking both immigrant and non-immigrant visas would be done with the information.
Telephone numbers, email addresses and travel history of up to five years from the date of application would also be asked to be provided by the applicants. Further, the applicants would also have to give an undertaking of whether they had been expelled from any country or if any of their relatives were accused of being involved in any form of terrorist activities.
For applicant citizens from countries such as the UK, Canada, France and Germany for which the U.S. gives visa-free travel status would not be impacted by the proposal. However, for all those applicants visiting the U.S for work of holidays from countries such as India, China and Mexico – which are non-exempt countries, be embroiled.
What is the present stand on the request for social media?
According to new regulations that were implemented by the U.S. in May last year, U.S. immigration officials were directed to ask for social media handles of visa applicants only if they felt "that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting", according to a state department communique issued at that point in time.
The latest stricter proposals on visa requirements were made following promises by President Donald Trump of implementing “extreme vetting” measures for all foreigners wishing to enter the U.S. with the aim of combating terrorist entering the country.
"Maintaining robust screening standards for visa applicants is a dynamic practice that must adapt to emerging threats," the state department said in a statement as quoted by the New York Times.
"We already request limited contact information, travel history, family member information, and previous addresses from all visa applicants. Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity."
Who would take the decision on social media handover for visa applicants?
The Office of Management and Budget has top approve of the idea first. Additionally. two months’ time would be given for comments from the public before a decision on the issue is taken.
How is free speech impacted by this decision - if taken?
This policy has been labelled as an invasion of privacy that could lead to restriction of free speech by civil liberties groups who have condemned the plan. .
"People will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official," said Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We're also concerned about how the Trump administration defines the vague and over-broad term 'terrorist activities' because it is inherently political and can be used to discriminate against immigrants who have done nothing wrong," she said.
US-based entities such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit and YouTube are also covered under the social media platforms covered in the proposal. However, come social media platforms of other countries – such as Sina Weibo of China and VK social network of Russia would also be included in it.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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