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U.S. Government to Begin Requesting Foreign Visitors’ Social Media Info

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And, no, it’s not to check out your bikini selfies or food photos.

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You might not care if the U.S. government is among your new list of Twitter followers, but if you’re visiting the country from certain overseas countries, rest assured—it wants in. 

This was the takeaway from a series of news stories that broke last week about a new policy the Department of Homeland Security has introduced, through which the federal government has begun requesting that select foreign visitors provide their Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts upon arriving in the country.

A spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, who said the government approved the change December 19, told the website Politico that the new policy is meant to “identify potential [terrorist] threats.” 

In other words, it’s not because the feds want to troll bikini beach selfies or keep up with food pics.

Travelers are requested to list social media info in response to a query that is part of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which certain foreign visitors must complete before arriving in the United States. Specifically, this questionnaire applies to visitors arriving through the visa-waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries to travel and stay in the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. 

According to the Politico report, the optional request to “enter information associated with your online presence,” includes a drop-down menu that lists platforms including Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. It also provides spaces for users to input their account names for each of those sites.

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Previously, government officials have said they wouldn’t prohibit entry to foreigners who didn’t provide social media account information. Still, these same officials are not required to give reasons for prohibiting entry. 

Naturally, this effort has been met with fierce opposition. A story on TravelPulse noted that the Internet Association, which represents high-tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, has said the line of questioning threatens free expression and poses new privacy and security risks to foreigners. Other organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Access Now also have decried the new policy as unjust.

While we’re all for keeping the United States safe from terrorists, this new policy has us feeling a bit dubious. Stay tuned for developments, and remember to keep drunk Tweets to a minimum.

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.

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