The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has filed a proposal to collect social media details from visitors to the country. Sharing social media information with officials would be voluntary, and indicated as an option on Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) forms. The forms are required to determine if individual travelers from a Visa Waiver Program country can travel to the US without a visa. Canadian citizens would be exempt from the proposal, given that they do not need an ESTA to enter the US However, it would apply to other types of residents living in Canada with foreign citizenship, such as those from France, Australia, and Japan.
The DHS has said that social media information would be collected for vetting individuals and contact information, aiding in the investigative processes of applications. US Customs officials have indicated that an applicant would not be punished if they declined to provide this information.
Citizen Lab Postdoctoral Fellow Christopher Parsons told the CBC in an interview that he had concerns with the privacy implications of the proposal. “It can be very challenging in 140 characters to provide a full context of a joke or an association or something of that nature so it could lead to people being concerned,” he said. “Is what they said going to be used against them even though it was perfectly innocuous?”
Parsons added that the DHS asking for this information was not surprising, as it is something border security officials were already monitoring. In some sense, this made that process more transparent: “This at least makes it much more evident I think to people who are coming in that this is an actual area of surveillance whereas previously perhaps people might have been a bit more surprised.”