The federal government has begun requesting some foreigners traveling to the United States to provide their social media details. Some of the popular services that the travelers are being asked to provide details on include Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB). Others include little-used services and platforms that are wildly popular in their home countries but not globally. A notable omission, though, is Snapchat.
The proposal to collect social media data was first made this summer by the Department of Homeland Security. It is aimed at foreigners hailing from some 32 countries that fall under the ‘visa waiver program’. This is a program that allows foreigners who are visiting the US for a short period of time to skip the formal visa application process.
Most of the 32 countries that are affected are in Europe. Early indications are that Canadians and Mexicans are exempt from disclosing their social media details since all they need to enter the United States is a passport and not a visa.
Despite the fact that travelers can either decline or accept to provide their social media details, civil liberties organizations and the tech sector have criticized the social data collection effort. The critics argue that social media data so collected can divulge information that is deeply personal such as political leanings and sexual orientation. And as a retaliatory measure, other countries could follow suit which would see Americans traveling abroad being asked to provide their social media details.
Critics also point out that the effort is not guaranteed to improve security since it was highly unlikely for potential terrorists to divulge their social media details as it would incriminate them. And even if it was made compulsory, they could always create fake profiles or impersonate others.
The effort at social media data collection for travelers is, however, being seen as quasi-compulsory due fact that foreigners may fear not disclosing since it could work against them.
“It’s very hard to see travellers not filling out this item — even though it’s optional — as they may fear not getting entry into the country,” chief technologist at the Centre for Democracy and Technology, Joseph Lorenzo Hall, told the BBC.
In Friday’s trading Facebook fell by 0.11% to close at $117.27 a share.