An ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) is a online portal that determines the eligibility of a person to visit the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Citizens and Nationals of 38 countries are eligible to apply for a Visa Waiver under the ESTA program. You can find more information about the ESTA and VWP here.
Now, the Department of Homeland Security has received approval to request social media account details from ESTA applicants.
Why does Homeland Security want your social media information?
Put simply, Homeland Security’s goal of obtaining this information is so it can identify potential security risks online.
In 2015, the Department received heavy backlash following the San Bernardino shooting. It missed a radical message that was posted on one of the shooter’s social media accounts prior to the attack.
I believe they will also use this information to catch out those who are working illegally or overstaying their visit.
Do you need to provide your social media details?
No. The social media section of the application is optional. I can’t see this ever becoming a required field – how would they deal with travellers who don’t have social media accounts?
Also, how would Homeland Security force you to list ALL of your social media accounts? What’s stopping you from listing your sparingly-used Google+ account and leaving it at that?
How is your social media information used?
According to the Customs and Border Protection website, your social media information will be shared with…
…appropriate federal, state, local, tribal and foreign governmental agencies or multilateral governmental organizations responsible for investigating or prosecuting the violations of, or for enforcing or implementing, a statute, rule, regulation, order or license, or where DHS believes information would assist enforcement of civil or criminal laws.
This isn’t great news for personal privacy. In fact, the Civil Liberties Coalition actually wrote a letter to the Privacy Office at the Department of Homeland security about the matter which you can find here.
What about existing ESTA holders?
As an existing ESTA holder, you aren’t impacted by this change unless:
- Your ESTA expires;
- You’re issued with a new passport;
- You change your name or gender;
- Your country of citizenship changes;
- Your circumstances change.
What’s your opinion on this? Are you willing to hand over your social media handles?
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