While the country was distracted with the passing of the Republican’s disastrous health care bill today, Reuters reports that the State Department is considering a rule that would require certain visa applicants to give the government access to their social media accounts, in what many see as a push towards the “extreme vetting” President Donald Trump and his henchmen think is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks on American soil.
The proposed changes would apply to a select group of visa applicants singled out because they “have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.” If the changes are approved by the Office of Management and Budget, an estimated 65,000 people who apply for visas would have to provide “all prior passport numbers, five years’ worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers, as well as 15 years of biographical information when applying for a U.S. visa.” Applicants would not be required to provide their passwords — all the better, because if they’re trying to keep 15 years of biographical information in their heads on top of all the other shit, they’ll probably forget their passwords anyway out of stress, fear or both.
Immigration lawyers and advocates tell Reuters that these expectations would likely “catch applicants who make innocent mistakes or do not remember all the information requested.” Clearly that’s part of the government’s intent should this draconian rule be passed, but honestly, this seems like a tremendous waste of time for everyone involved.
Also, it would be an awful lot of work: The State Department estimates that this would take an hour per applicant, essentially creating 65,000 extra hours of work and throwing up another bureaucratic obstacle in a process that is already a snarl of paperwork and logistics. Failure to provide an accurate personal dossier like this proposed rule requests wouldn’t necessarily mean that the applicants’ visas be denied and the social media profiles of applicants “will not be used to deny visas based on applicants’ race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender, or sexual orientation.”
Opponents of the proposed rule make some very valid points, namely that this is an insane way to go about sniffing out terrorists, namely because the things that the State Department is currently doing are fine. “The more effective tactics are the methods that we currently use to monitor terrorist organizations, not just stumbling into the terrorist who is dumb enough to post on his Facebook page ‘I am going to blow up something in the United States,’” John Sanweg, a former DHS employee told Reuters.
Thankfully, these proposed changes will undergo a public comment period and will be denied or approved by the OMB on May 18th. If approved, it will apply for 180 days. Peruse the proposal, and pay attention to the instructions on how to submit your public comments near the top of the document. If you find any of this objectionable, do not hesitate to say so.