The Trump administration wants all US visa applicants to furnish five years of their social media history, usernames, email addresses and phone numbers, for vetting visitors and immigrants, said media reports.
The move follows the administration’s emphasis on “extreme vetting” of would-be immigrants to the US, and is an extension of efforts by the previous administration to more closely scrutinize social media after the San Bernardino terrorist attack, said a CNN report.
On December 2, 2015, 14 people were killed and 22 others were seriously injured in mass shooting and an attempted bombing at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. Families of San Bernardino attack victims had accused Facebook, Google and Twitter of aiding terrorism, a report in Los Angeles Times had said.
Apart from email addresses, social media handles and phone numbers, travellers would also have to provide any immigration problems they have had – whether with US or elsewhere – and any family history of involvement in terrorist activities.
The decision will not take effect immediately. After the publication of the planned change to visa applications on Friday, there will be a 60-day period for the public to comment on the move which will affect nearly 15 million foreigners who apply for visas to enter the US each year.
Previously, social media, email and phone number histories were only sought from applicants identified for extra scrutiny, such as those who have travelled to areas controlled by terrorist organizations. An estimated 65,000 people per year are in that category, said media reports.
The new rules would apply to virtually all applicants for immigrant and non-immigrant visas. The department estimates it would affect 710,000 immigrant visa applicants and 14 million non-immigrant visa applicants, including those who want to come to the US for business or education, according to the documents.
Only applicants for certain diplomatic and official visa types may be exempted from the requirements, the documents said.
Critics complain the moves, amid broader efforts by the administration, are not only invasive on privacy grounds, but also effectively limit legal immigration to the US by slowing the process down, making it more burdensome and making it more difficult to be accepted for a visa, said the CNN report, adding that federal authorities argue the moves are necessary for national security.
The move by the Trump administration stops short of requiring passwords or access to those social media accounts, although then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly suggested last year that it was being considered, the report said.
The administration has been pursuing “extreme vetting” of foreigners as a centrepiece of its immigration and national security policy, including through the contentious travel ban that remains the subject of heavy litigation.