Bad for the greater good

On 30th May, visa applications to the United States are required to submit their social media account information for the past five years.

This new policy gives the government access to personal data commonly shared on a list of 20 social media platforms, including ASKfm, Douban, Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, MySpace, Pinterest, QZone, Reddit, Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, Tumblr, Twitter, Twoo, Vine, Vkontakte, Youku and YouTube. What’s more, this list may grow in the future.

This new rule applies to virtually all applicants for immigrant and non-immigrant visas. However, foreign tourists or business travellers who are allowed to visit the United States for 90 days under the Visa Waiver Program, are still given an option, for the time being, to list their social media accounts.

President Donald Trump vowed to put America first. He gave his words. Visa applicants need to hand over their social media accounts to enter his country because national security is one of his top priorities.

This new policy seems to work for the greater good — protect domestic citizens while supporting legitimate travel to the United States. But really?

There is an absence of an explanation of how the information will be stored. Without an appropriate data protection framework, the information gathered from millions of visa applicants would be vulnerable to any data breach. This brings significant concerns about privacy, which may result in dishonesty (that, of course, could lead to severe penalties).

However, if the authorities would be able to detect that an applicant has failed to provide all of their details, then what would be the purpose of the policy? I am afraid that, without big data analytics capabilities, this wide-scale monitoring inevitably will lead to delays in visa processing.

Also, it is still unclear how the information will be used. There is a great deal of concern that social media posts in languages other than English may be taken out of context, especially when automated tools are employed to review the content during the visa adjudication process.

Worse, it is possible that such social media monitoring will arbitrarily target applicants from certain countries with different religious affiliations, which raises discrimination concerns over visa denials.

Apparently, this policy sends a message to the world that you need to mind your opinion on the United States and to watch what you say online if you ever plan to enter the country that was once proud of being open and welcoming. This kind of monitoring even has chilling effects on domestic residents who might be less likely to speak freely.

For many of us, social media is no longer just a platform to connect with our family and friends. In a rapidly changing world, social media has become the main source of news and information.

Making social media account information mandatory for visa applications to enter the United States just reflects how little the authorities understand the true function of social media in our modern society.

It is clear that this sort of monitoring is a problematic idea. So the question for many of us who need to enter the country is whether you are willing to put up with the new requirement as long as it is for the greater good.

To be honest, when it comes to free speech, the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution does not make an explicit distinction between citizens and non-citizens.

In fact, freedom of speech is an inherent human right. The Constitution is there to set limits on the government, not people. You have the right, regardless of what the Trump Administration says.

Oops, I just said it.



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