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Border Control Wants to Peek at Your Facebook Account

The puns almost write themselves: U.S. Border Control wants to “friend” you. Travelers set to “dislike” new Border Control proposal. And on and on.

But this is no laughing matter. The U.S. Border Control is proposing adding a new line to the form travelers fill out when visiting in the U.S. for under 90 days without a visa. According the Guardian, the line would be added to both the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (Esta) and I-94W forms and would read, “Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.”

Would it Work?

I’ll point out the obvious here: What on earth does that even mean?  Furthermore, what sort of valuable information could a traveler possibly provide in response? I have a Facebook account? My Instagram handle is loveshotdogs435? 

“It’s unclear if or how the DHS would verify information written on a form before hitting border control, leaving the possibility of false information being put down,” The Guardian points out, “and while the information may be optional, it will likely be difficult to discern what is and isn’t required on the form.”

Exactly. There’s really no (non-draconian) way to ensure that A) a person provides the right information, like a URL or properly spelled social media handle; and B) a person provides correct or true information. And obviously there’s no reasonable way to tell if a person’s social media profile suggests that they pose a threat before they’ve left the airport and entered the country.

The Office of the Federal Register states that “collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

Anyone who’s watched the news over the past several years can understand the thinking here. Social media can offer a window into the minds of would-be attackers, but too often only serves to explain those attackers’ motives in hindsight.

If authorities could peer through that window before something bad happens, clearly that would be great (though it does raise a host of serious privacy questions, but that’s a whole other story). But is a line on a customs form an effective way to gain that access?

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