The US State Department of State (DoS) is now requiring social media details from most visa applicants. Unlike previous practice where only applicants that are flagged for additional vetting were asked for social media information, almost all visa applicants are now required to submit their social media usernames, previous email addresses, and phone numbers. This follows the application of the March 2018 regulation that only exempts certain diplomatic and official visa applicants from disclosing their social media history.
According to reports, the US DoS State Department is reported to have explained the requirement as a way to improve screenings, to protect US citizens while promoting legitimate travel. It is estimated that approximately 14.6 million people apply for US visas annually.
The new visa application form names social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube and provides spaces for additional platforms not listed. Applicants are also required to list social media accounts and emails they have used in the previous five years.
Civil rights groups questioned the efficacy of social media vetting, saying that it could have a chilling effect on online freedom of expression online.
Privacy and data protection are two interrelated Internet governance issues. Data protection is a legal mechanism that ensures privacy. Privacy is usually defined as the right of any citizen to control their own personal information and to decide about it (to disclose information or not). Privacy is a fundamental human right. It is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in many other international and regional human rights conventions. The July 2015 appointment of the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age reflects the rising importance of privacy in global digital policy, and the recognition of the need to address privacy rights issues the the global, as well as national levels.
Several international instruments guarantee the right to freedom of expression. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that this right includes the freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. The Internet, with the opportunity it offers people to express themselves, is seen as an enabler of the exercise of this particular human right. Although these freedoms are guaranteed in global instruments and in national constitutions, in some countries freedom of expression is often curtailed through online censorship or filtering mechanisms, imposed by states, often for political reasons.