US Customs wants to know travelers’ social media account names

The US Customs and Border Protection agency has submitted a request to the Office of Management and Budget, asking for permission to collect travelers social media account names as they enter the country.

US Customs social media

The CBP, which is part of the US Department of Homeland Security, proposes that the request “Please enter information associated with your online presence — Provider/Platform — Social media identifier” be added to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and to the CBP Form I-94W (Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure).

“It will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information,” the CBP noted.

“Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

The public and affected agencies are asked to comment on the request within 60 days of its publication (i.e until August 22, 2016), but haven’t offered an online form for comments to be submitted. Instead, the commenters are asked to write them down and send them via snail mail to this address.

I get that the DHS is after any kind of information it can get on travelers, but this seems rather pointless. What’s stopping them from lying about their online presence on social media? What about accounts with fake names? What about accounts of people who have the same name as the traveler? And what about fake accounts that can be created by people other than the person in question, but impersonating him or her? Will people be sanctioned for “lying” when they didn’t know about these accounts?

They say that aswering that question will be optional. Drawing from experience in my own and other countries, government agencies (but not only them) usually don’t even mention that some of the information they request is optional even if it is, and I expect the same to happen here.

Finally, the question, if the request passes, is optional – for now. This is the perfect stepping stone for making answering that question mandatory in the future.

So, if you disagree with the request, now is the time to make your feelings known.