U.S. Government Requesting Foreigners Social Media Profiles

Credit: Sstrobeck23 Creative Commons 4.0.

The U.S. government has begun quietly requesting that foreigners who enter the U.S. on the visa waiver program list their social media accounts for inspection.  The social media profile request is very broad and includes Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, among others.  While this is supposedly “optional” at this point, anyone who has traveled overseas or has entered the U.S. knows that one wrong word or movement while being screened to enter may create major challenges for your travel plans.

This is a troubling move because other countries will most likely retaliate against the U.S. and create similar programs to monitor the digital profiles of U.S. visitors to their countries.  Since it is so easy for someone to create fake and/or multiple social media profiles I would advise every U.S. citizen who intends to travel overseas to begin creating fake social media accounts to better protect their personal privacy, safety, security, and free speech rights. For years, students in high school and college (particularly student-athletes) have created multiple accounts to hide their digital activity from teachers, coaches, school administrators, the media, etc…

I have personally taught thousands of people how to better protect their social media privacy and I am glad to see many of my students have followed my advice. The social media accounts that may be seen by teachers, employers, governments, etc… are generally different from the accounts people may utilize to communicate with their friends and family members and this is done for privacy, security, and reputation reasons.

When I personally sounded the alarm on the danger of social media monitoring by the government years ago before anybody heard of Edward Snowden, there was mostly silence from the civil rights and tech communities. I had to move heaven and earth to get people to believe what the future may hold if we didn’t stand up to protect our personal privacy and civil rights.  Fortunately, the Maryland legislature was willing to be the first state to introduce legislation to ban employers (including state governments) and schools from demanding access to your personal social media profiles.

This new U.S. government program wants to be able to track social media profiles that may show a propensity to commit terror by foreigners entering the U.S.  I doubt that a terrorist or would be terrorist would list on a U.S. government form social media accounts that encourage jihad against the United States. I am very skeptical about the value of this program.

I understand the threat of terrorism more than most people.  I was living in lower Manhattan on 9/11.  I heard the first plane that day flying by my apartment in North Battery Park City before it intentionally hit the World Trade Center and I saw the second plane hit the Twin Towers.  After the North Tower fell (I took multiple now historical photos that day), I ran like Forest Gump down 17 flights of stairs to get out of my apartment and evacuate the area. I was unable to return to my home for weeks because of the unprovoked terrorist attack.

I understand the importance of balancing privacy vs. security and lawful access.  These are complicated issues with no easy answers.  However, because its so easy to create fake social media profiles the data the U.S. will be collecting will generally be useless.

Privacy equals power. The less personal information you post online under your name or under a profile that can be tracked back to you the better.  Therefore, this holiday season be very careful about posting your Christmas and Hanukkah photos because you never know if those photos or likes may be used to deny you entry into the U.S. or a foreign country.

Copyright 2016 by Brad Shear All rights reserved.