The next time you fly to New York or Disneyland, you may be asked to turn over the passwords to your social media accounts, depending on where you come from. The move comes as part of a tightening of security checks currently being contemplated by Homeland Security secretary John Kelly.
The move of is one of several being considered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in order to vet visa applicants from seven countries regarded as high-risk — namely, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen.
“We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say?” Kelly is reported as saying to the House Homeland Security Committee by NBC News. “If they don’t want to cooperate then you don’t come in.”
Kelly argued that obtaining the passwords of a potential visitor or immigrant would allow consular officials to gain a better understanding of the applicant. Something which, he explained, was important when the applicant comes from a failed state where infrastructure and record-keeping is degraded by conflict.
It’s worth emphasizing that nothing has been confirmed yet. Moreover, it’s unlikely to change anything for the bulk of visitors to the United States who come from countries other than the seven named in Trump’s controversial executive order.
But this could change, quite easily. Firstly, Trump ordered the DHS to create a “uniform screening standard and procedure” that would apply to anyone seeking to immigrate to the United States. It’s unclear if this will also apply to anyone traveling on a non-immigrant visa, such as for tourism or business purposes.
But also, there’s precedent. During the tenure of President Obama, the ESTA visa waiver program (which is used by citizens from over 41 developed nations to visit the United States without applying for an in-person visa) was updated to ask for the social media details of applicants.
Asking for the passwords of anyone attempting to visit the United States is just the next logical step forwards.