Foreign citizens entering the United States could soon see one very 21st-century question on their entry forms: What's your "social media identifier"? Yes, the Department of Homeland Security wants to follow visitors on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and wherever else they have a "presence." The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agency (which is part of DHS) filed a request to change the I-94 and I-94W forms on Thursday, allowing for 60 days of public commentary before the change goes into effect. The new question would read: "Please enter information associated with your online presence — Provider/Platform — Social media identifier." Filling it out is optional, but used for "vetting" purposes. "Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case," the proposal said.
This proposal comes in the wake of terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad by individuals who appear to have expressed their views on social media. Tashfeen Malik, one of the shooters in the December San Bernardino, CA, attack, only mentioned her belief in jihad in a private message on Facebook, but that fact still put DHS on the defensive. "Under my leadership as secretary, we in fact began to consult social media in connection with conferring various immigration benefits and we will be doing more of this," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters last December, according to Reuters. "Any reports or partial reports to the contrary are simply false." Will asking tourists and immigrants to give customs their Facebook names actually prevent terrorists from entering the country? Or will it just impinge on privacy and cause individuals who pose real threats to express their views elsewhere? It would have no effect on potential terrorists who are U.S. citizens or who already live in this country.
Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told Politico that the government appears to want to "protect the periphery of the country from threats externally, but there’s a really horrible track record interpreting...comments on social media, and interpreting them as meaning grave threats."