U.S. now asking for social media accounts in visa vetting

June 2 (UPI) — U.S. embassies have begun asking new visa applicants to disclose their social media accounts as part of a new questionnaire approved by the Office of Budget and Management.

A voluntary, three-page questionnaire, supplemental to the visa application process, was rolled out on May 25 as a temporary measure in response to President Donald Trump‘s May 6 memo calling for enhanced screening. Trump called for “extreme vetting” of foreigners seeking to come to the United States as he ran for the presidency.

The questionnaire asks applicants for all email names and names used on social media accounts — their Internet “handles” — in the past five years, as well as passport numbers, travel histories, sources of funding for trips, employment histories, and names of spouses or partners in the past 15 years. Disclosure of passwords is not requested, although the Trump administration earlier considered that requirement. It advises that, although the responses are voluntary, a lack of answers to questions could delay the visa process.

The State Department estimates that about 65,000 of 13 million annual visa applications will be subject to extra scrutiny.

A State Department spokesperson said the requested social media information will apply to those “who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security related visa ineligibilities.”

During a public comment period prior to the approval of the new rules, the American Civil Liberties Union called the questionnaire overly broad, adding that social media information would imperil the privacy and freedom of applicants and of any U.S. citizens with whom they may have communicated.

Betsy Lawrence of the American Immigration Lawyers Association said information provided on the questionnaire could be difficult to document, and a simple error in answering questions could create a suspicion of fraud.

“There are already screening protocols in place, and we have seen significant delays for legitimate travel to the United States for family or work purposes. This might create even greater barriers for people,” Lawrence said.

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