28 rights groups, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, are signatories to a letter sent by the Center for Democracy & Technology to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urging the rejection of a proposal to request certain foreign visitors’ social media information as part of their travel applications.
The DHS proposal, which would ask visa waiver travellers about their “online presence” on their online ESTA (Electronic System For Travel Authorization) applications, is described in CDT’s letter as invading “individual privacy and [imperiling] freedom of expression while being ineffective and prohibitively expensive to implement and maintain.”
The letter goes on to highlight that the scale of the operation would necessitate a significant expansion of intelligence activity. It would also create disproportionate risks for certain communities, for example Muslims and Arabs whose names and ill-understood social customs would come under far greater scrutiny than travelers from the rest of the West.
“This proposal would move the world of ‘security theater’ online,” said CDT Free Expression Project Director Emma Llansó in a press release. “Social networks also go well beyond the individual account, making any such attempt to collect social media identifiers a threat to all of us with an online presence.”
The Americans Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Access Now have also submitted letters to U.S. Customs and Border Protection objecting to the proposal based on concerns related to privacy, free expression and the effectiveness of the program.