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United States: Monitoring Social Media Accounts of Visa Applicants Sets a Dangerous Precedent
Following reports that applicants for US visas will now have to hand over their social media user names, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“Collecting and monitoring the social media accounts of visa applicants will have an undue chilling effect on freedom of expression for immigrants and individuals seeking to visit the United States,” said Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “It will disproportionately affect the most marginalized populations around the world, which increasingly rely on social media for news and communication. Users will be justifiably concerned that their online speech could impact their visa applications, leading to self-censorship.
“While we assume the US monitoring is being done in the name of national security, research has not shown a security benefit to social media monitoring. This sort of data gathering is very susceptible to misinterpretation, especially if content is posted in languages other than English and agencies are using automated tools to scan through millions of posts. It will inevitably lead to false positives that could arbitrarily harm thousands of individuals, who will have little recourse to appeal,” Abramowitz said.
“Our Freedom on the Net findings have shown that governments often learn from one another. Authorities in countries around the world will likely follow the US lead by adopting similar privacy-invading policies to limit immigration, or worse, use domestic social media monitoring to keep tabs on their opponents and silence dissent.”
Newly adopted rules at the US State Department stipulate that nearly all applicants for US visas will have to submit social media account names. This change will reportedly affect more than 14 million people annually. The State Department has not disclosed how the resulting data will be stored or whether it will be shared with other government agencies.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.