New rules for obtaining entry visas in the United States came into force on May 31. One of these new measures imposed by the US government is raising a lot of controversy: now, in addition to the usual documentation, you must also inform about the social networks (including Twitter and Facebook) and emails accounts you have used in the last five years.
The rationale is that the more in-depth research on visa applicants to the United States can assist in improving the assessment of security risks involved with the entry of foreigners and even of movement of American citizens inside and outside the country. In other words, the Department of Homeland Security wants to know your online activities to decide if you have the potential to bring problems to the country and, if so, bar your entry into the US.
This is a measure that will impact about 15 million travelers per year, and is being received with concern. In a study conducted at the Brennan Center for Justice (New York University), Faiza Patel, Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Sophia DenUyl and Raya Koreh point out that in social networks we discover an immense variety of information about people, including personal preferences, political and religious alignments , physical and mental health conditions, and the identity of their friends and family. However, according to the researchers, this type of survey “is susceptible to misinterpretation, and wholesale monitoring of social media creates serious risks to privacy and free speech.”
The information provided so far does not indicate what type of information can be interpreted as an indication of risk to national security, and, according to the research, it was also verified that some of the agents involved in social network scans are also uncertain about what exactly would suggest danger. One of the problems raised by this lack of clarity about the data that should or should not be considered alarming, in the words of the researchers, is that “while agents obviously must have some flexibility to make judgments, the breadth of discretion combined with weak safeguards opens the door for discrimination based on political
or religious views.”
Another point worthy of comment is the gradual mechanization of social network monitoring processes using Artificial Intelligence, which can search for keywords and identify “non-obvious” connections between people, data, and organizations. According to research, this is a particularly problematic issue given the poor performance of automated systems attempting to perform sensitive content analysis, as well as the ambiguity of various social networking posts (after all, artificial intelligence is still not able to track the use of irony or sarcasm, as a human would do).
Even more alarming, according to Patel, Levinson-Waldman, DenUyl and Koreh, are the fragile evidence that this type of monitoring brings the expected results. For this reason, it is questionable the urgency of implementing these new rules, as well as the need to store the data of the visa candidates for indeterminate time, without specifying what agencies of the United States government have access to the information gathered.
“Social networks are today a natural and important extension of an individuals’ behavior, and unfortunately in some cases they have become an instrument of dissemination of hate speech. Therefore, it is legitimate for the government to understand this behavior; at the same time, the rules of access to and use of this information must be clear in order to avoid misuse and misinterpretation by governmental authorities,” says Pedro Drummond, a partner at Drummond Advisors, a company specialized in transactions between Brazil and the United States and business immigration.
Regardless of the results and inquiries about the new measures, the question about the use of social networks in the last 5 years is already part of Forms DS-160/DS-156 (Nonimmigrant Visa Application) and DS-260 (Immigrant Visa Application). So be prepared to provide details about your internet history as of the next visa application. Remember that ticking the “unknown” option if you do not remember the details clearly can open the door to further questioning by the US authorities.