In a statement released today, a broad coalition rejected the idea proposed by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly that DHS could begin requiring visa applicants from certain countries to provide social media account passwords as a condition of entering the U.S. The coalition, organized by the Center for Democracy & Technology, includes human rights and civil liberties organizations, technology company trade associations, and experts in technology, security, and the law. The practice of demanding social media passwords on visa application forms, which Secretary Kelly raised at a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on February 7th, 2017, would not increase the security of U.S. citizens and would jeopardize the fundamental rights of people in the U.S. and abroad.
“Telling people they have to give the government the passwords to their devices and online accounts is like telling them they have to hand over their house keys in order to travel. This kind of blanket policy is unprecedented and extremely risky. It would compromise travelers’ security, invade their privacy, and have an intense chilling effect on what people are willing to view and post online,” said Emma Llansó, Director of CDT’s Free Expression Project. “What’s more, many visitors are already linked to family, friends, or colleagues in the U.S. on social media. As a result, U.S. citizens’ private communications would also be exposed to government scrutiny under such a policy.”
Government collection of people’s social media passwords would allow government officials to scrutinize years’ worth of private messages and posts and troves of other personal data. This proposal could dissuade people from participating in social networks, traveling with digital devices, and traveling to the United States. Many countries around the globe would likely decide to mirror the request for passwords, making it harder for U.S. citizens to travel abroad, with immense implications for diplomacy, cybersecurity, and economies worldwide.
“This is not a practice that should become normalized,” said Llansó. “It imperils many of the fundamental freedoms we enjoy — freedom of expression, religion, association and the right to privacy — and U.S. citizens will be swept up in this dragnet.” Llansó added, “DHS should take this idea off the table, permanently.”