US visa applicants to be asked for social media history: State Department

Apart from email addresses, social media handles and phone numbers, travellers would also have to provide any immigration problems they have had - whether with U.S. or elsewhere - and any family history of involvement in terrorist activities.

And in a striking human rights move, would-be immigrants from countries where female genital mutilation is prevalent would be directed to a website ensuring they're aware the practice - common in some African countries - is illegal in the U.S.

In the aftermath of the 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, Congress raised concerns about the use of social media by terrorist groups and requested that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) broaden its social media background checks.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the State Department's proposed rule change. "The aim is to weed out people with radical or risky views", Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, told the paper.

Civil liberties groups have condemned the policy as an invasion of privacy that could damage free speech.

The department said it intends not to routinely ask most diplomatic and official visa applicants for the social media information.

According to the documents, approximately 14 million people would be affected by the new proposals and another 700,000 would be affected in the immigration system.

Under that limitation, about 65k people would have to give over their social media information. There will also be an optional section for applicants to share information about social media services not listed on the application.

The Department of State says that the form "will be submitted electronically over an encrypted connection to the Department via the internet", as if to offer reassurance that it will be able to store the data securely.

During his campaign, then presidential candidate Donald Trump promised "extreme vetting" of people seeking to enter the United States, and last March, the State Department directed consular officers around the world to step up scrutiny of visa applicants.

The Department of State already collects limited contact information, travel history, family member information, and previous addresses from all visa applicants, the spokesperson said. The government has failed to disclose how this information - accurate or not - may be shared across government agencies and have consequences for individuals living in America, including USA citizens.

  • Joey Payne