On May 31, 2019, the US Department of State (“DOS” or “Department”) updated its visa application forms to require persons seeking US visas to disclose their social media identifiers. The DOS defines “identifier” to include any name used on a social media platform like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. The Department’s FAQs state that the information
In light of recent news regarding data breaches affecting Facebook users, data-mining apps are not the only entities monitoring social media use these days.
Last fall, the Department of Homeland Security expanded its digital monitoring policy in the Federal Register to include immigrant “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results”. While DHS describes the announcement as a policy clarification rather than a policy change, the news escalates the debate concerning government use of social media and the tension between privacy rights, free speech, and public safety. Concurrently, DHS issued broader access to public-source data in concert with the intelligence community. Whereas these 2017 adoptions indicate recent change, DHS has instituted new practices in the digital domain over the last two decades. For instance, the Department began to evaluate social media more closely in the aftermath of the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting by two attackers who had exchanged private online messages, and added optional requests for social media use under the Visa Waiver Program in late 2016.