US Customs Now Wants Access To Travelers' Social Media Accounts

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In a questionable move, Customs and Border Protection has started collecting social media information from foreign travelers entering the United States.

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The United States government is keeping tabs on foreign travelers by seeking access to their social media profiles.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) rolled out the new procedure earlier this week, Mashable reports.

They've started asking for the social media information of anyone traveling to the U.S. through the Visa Waiver Program, which allows people to travel within a country for 90 days of business or pleasure without needing a visa.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization form that travelers must fill out to get a visa waiver has been updated to include the social media request. The document's purpose is to assess "law enforcement or security risk."

The request includes account names on popular social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and LinkedIn, among others.

While the CBP said that providing the information is not mandatory and people will not be barred from entering the U.S. if they don't include it, privacy advocates have noted that foreign travelers are likely to fill it out just for good measure.

"Many of these travelers are likely to have business associates, family, and friends in the U.S., and many of them will communicate with their contacts in the U.S. over social media," the ACLU said in an open letter. "This data collection could therefore vacuum up a significant amount of data about Americans’ associations, beliefs, religious and political leanings, and more, chilling First Amendment freedoms."

As the government works to keep track of people with connections to the Islamic State, this new procedure is set to be used as a strategy to spot potential travelers who are affiliated with radical or terrorist organizations.

In addition to this being an invasive request, it could result in violations of privacy considering that Homeland Security and the CBP can share your information with, "appropriate federal, state, local, tribal and foreign governmental agencies or multilateral governmental organizations responsible for investigating or prosecuting the violations of, or for enforcing or implementing, a statute, rule, regulation, order or license, or where DHS believes information would assist enforcement of civil or criminal laws," according to the CBP website.

The word "social" in social media seems to be lost upon government agencies that don't seem to realize that these sites only offer a snapshot into a person's life.

It appears as though the CBP wants to place a digital wire tap on people, which sounds like a watered-down version of President-elect Donald Trump's proposed plans for foreign travelers and immigrants.

Despite privacy advocates' warnings against this new policy, it has officially been implemented. As the holiday season is underway — which is a peak time for overall travel — countless numbers of people have likely already filled out the form without realizing it could be an infringement on their privacy.

Banner Photo Credit: Flickr, U.S.Customs and Border Protection 

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