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Government Surveillance, Privacy & Data

CDT Comments to the U.S. State Department on Proposed Collection of Visa Applicants’ Social Media Information

Bureau of Consular Affairs, Visa Office
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20520

Department of State Desk Officer
Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20503

Re: DS-160 and DS-156, Application for Nonimmigrant Visa, OMB Control No. 1405-0182; DS-260, Electronic Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, OMB Control No. 1405-185


CDT urges the State Department (DOS) to withdraw the agency’s proposed information collection under Public Notices 10260 and 10261. Published March 30, 2018, DOS proposes to ask all immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants to provide social media identifiers, and email addresses used in the past five years, among other information. This astronomical collection would have an immediate impact on 14.7 million visa applicants, and thousands, if not millions, more third parties whose data could be collaterally reviewed.

DOS’s proposal lacks sufficient guidance for visa applicants, consequently chilling the applications of the travelers and immigrants the United States seeks to attract. The data returned from this bulk demand for data may be used to facilitate data mining or encourage the government to pursue unreliable algorithmic screening processes. Social media screening is an unproven security tactic that will invite abuse in exchange for little benefit, and the screening of social media data will chill visa applicants’ and U.S. persons’ freedom of expression and, association, and will inhibit visa applicants’ right to anonymity. It is vital that DOS abandon this effort.