US Customs has proposed changes to the information it collects from travellers to the US. In a notice posted at the Federal Register it states that collecting “social media identifiers” will be used for vetting travellers and investigating possible nefarious activities. The proposed change would add an optional data field with the instructions “Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.” These changes would be applied to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization and form I-94W, both of which are arrival/departure records used to document a foreign traveler’s admission to the United States. The proposed changes are estimated to cost the public about $295 million annually. Though these changes primarily effect non-US citizens, this still represents a troubling step toward broader surveillance powers for government agencies with a track record of violating privacy rights on a mass scale.
In recent news we’ve learned that the FBI has access to hundreds of millions of photos in it’s facial recognition database, including criminals and non-criminals alike. We’ve also learned of increased cooperation and collaboration between the US private technology sector of the economy and the US Government’s intelligence and surveillance community. Edward Snowden, the whistle blower famous for revealing top secret NSA global surveillance programs, has recently said that the true motivation behind the US government’s expansion of surveillance powers is “diplomatic manipulation, economic espionage, and social control.”
The proposed changes are open for public comments. Ironically comments can be submitted by snail mail only despite the fact that the proposed changes effect the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which can be accessed online. You can submit a comment by following the instructions here. Let them know how you feel!
From the Federal Register:
DHS proposes to add the following question to ESTA and to Form I-94W:
“Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.” It will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information. 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.