File photo, United Airlines planes are seen on the platform at the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, July 8, 2015. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)
International travelers to visit the United States via the visa waiver program will now be prompted for information about their online presence, according to a report in the Politics. The recently updated Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) forms a mandatory part of the visa waiver application, now also has a section for travellers to provide their usernames for different social media accounts, such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. While the giving of the information is actually optional, the change has a number of civil rights groups and privacy advocates concerned.
“There are very few rules about how that information is collected, stored, [and] disseminated to other agencies, and there are no guidelines about limiting the government’s use of that information,” said Michael W. Macleod-Ball, chief of staff of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office, told Politico.
The U. S. Customs and Border Protection argued that the policy is designed to help identify potential threats,” but the ACLU worries that the Arab and Muslim travellers are mistakenly under the microscope in the new system. While the US has said that it does not deny entry to those who don’t provide social media information, critics expect that many travelers will automatically fill in the empty cells in the hope of using the customs process as quickly as possible.
“The process to the US is confusing, and it is likely that most of the visitors fill out the card completely rather than the risk of additional questions from intimidating, uniformed officers,” said Nation White, senior legislative manager at the digital rights of the group Now.
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The Internet Association, another organization that opposes the policy, to ensure that the change would be a dangerous precedent. “The democratic and non-democratic countries — including those without the United States’ due process protections — will now believe that they are more justified in demanding social media information from visitors that could jeopardize the safety of the visitors,” said Abigail Slater, general counsel of the Internet Association.
38 countries are included in the visa-waiver program, which allows foreign citizens to visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa.