British people travelling to the US could be asked to hand over their social media passwords and mobile phone contacts at airports, under new border checks being considered by the Trump administration.
The so-called “extreme vetting” policy would mean tourists from the UK and other US allies, including France and Germany, could face intense security checks, with them being forced to disclose personal data, financial information and answer ideological questions, the Guardian reported.
Border officials could refuse entry to the US if foreign travellers don’t comply with the rules, and it’s unclear what rights travellers have if they refuse to hand over their personal information.
In a US Senate committee hearing last week, the country’s Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said: “We will do it when we think there’s a reason to do it”. He added: “The vast majority of people will not be questioned in that way.”
All international visitors will face US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspection, the country’s customs and border patrol told The Guardian. “This inspection may include electronic devices such as computers, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones and other communication devices, cameras, music and other media players and any other electronic or digital devices.”
The CBP added: “Keeping America safe and enforcing our nation’s laws in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully examine all materials entering the US.” However, it failed to respond to specific questions about social media accounts.
The UK Foreign Office hasn’t provided any advice to British travellers when it comes to digital privacy at the US border. When asked by The Guardian, the government department merely referred to a page of generic travel advice.
Others have suggested that foreign travellers who choose not to hand over their information will most likely be denied entry to the US. Advice from the the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which campaigns for digital civil rights, says: “Border agents cannot deny a US citizen admission to the country. However, if a foreign visitor declines, an agent may deny them entry.”
The US non-profit also says a foreign visitor “may have little recourse” if he or she refuses “a border agent’s demand to unlock their digital device, provide the device password, or provide social media information, and the agent responds by denying entry.”
Donald Trump has already made a number of moves to tighten the US border, including the controversial ban on travellers from six Muslim-majority countries (which has been blocked), and a ban on electronic devices in hand luggage from certain countries, which the UK has followed.