Will Visitors To The U.S. Soon Have To Provide Social Media Passwords to DHS?
This story hasn’t gathered as much traction in the media as you would think, but in testimony in front of Congress, the Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said that foreign travelers to the United States may soon be required to hand over passwords to their social media accounts as a condition of entering the country.
So is this just an over exaggeration on his testimony? I had hoped that was the case when I first read the headline. However, that is not the case. When Secretary Kelly was asked about possible vetting procedures, the secretary confirmed that requiring foreign travelers trying to enter the country to provide social media passwords as a condition of entering. Specifically, Secretary Kelly said, “We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say? If they don’t want to cooperate then you don’t come in.”
The purpose of this possible procedure is to, of course, provide security. That is how the government labels everything that it wants to do.
Why Is It Bad?
It really seems a bit crazy to require foreign travelers to hand over passwords for three reasons:
(1) social media is very personal and while there are people using social media that are linked to terrorism, the vast majority of travelers who are not will be hesitant to travel to the U.S., which could impact tourism/business;
(2) will other countries retaliate by holding American travelers abroad to the same standard? Would Americans be willing to hand over their social media passwords to a country with a government that may use that information for reasons unrelated to terrorism. If a businessman traveling in Saudi Arabia was gay and that was discovered through his social media passes, would he be prosecuted in that country?
(3) Also, where would these passwords be stored? We all know the U.S. government has had its fair share of hacks (i.e. OPM). Surely these passwords would be stored somewhere? If that information was hacked into, it would be detrimental to possibly millions of travelers.
I think this is really not a good idea, and I am not certain to what extent it would provide security, as the government claims that it will. If someone does have a social media account that they are using for the purposes of terrorism, will they just lie about having an account? Will they just create a legitimate account and a fake account? This is, as most policies related to travel, an attempt to show the government doing something rather than actually keeping people safe.