Australians trying to obtain a US visa will now have to hand over their social media details as part of a new immigration crackdown that came into effect over the weekend.
The US State Department issued a statement over the weekend outlining updates to the forms for all immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants that “request additional information, including social media identifiers”.
This would give US immigration access to the array of information shared on social media, including photos, check-in locations, and major life events.
The new visa form will include a drop-down menu listing social media platforms including Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter, and applicants will have to list their usernames on each site they have used in the last five years.
If a visa applicant is found to have lied on the form and said they did not have a social media presence they could be met with “serious immigration consequences”, the State Department said.
There will also be an option to allow applicants to freely offer up account information for social media platforms not listed in the options.
Applicants will also have to hand over details of any previous phone numbers and email addresses used in the last five years.
The crackdown, initially flagged in March last year, is the result of a memorandum signed by US President Donald Trump in 2017 for the “extreme vetting” of people coming to the country, and an executive order in the same year blocking entry to the US for people from several majority Muslim countries.
The State Department said the new requirements will improve its efforts in “vetting these applicants and confirming their identity”.
“We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect US citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“We already request certain contact information, travel history, family member information, and previous addresses from all visa applicants.”
“Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.”
Social media information had previously only been required from visa applicants when it was ruled that “such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting”.
During the previous Obama administration, visa applicants were sometimes asked to voluntarily offer up information on their social media accounts.
The US government has estimated that the new rules will impact about 15 million potential immigrants, with only diplomatic and official visas exempt from them.
A State Department spokesperson said that access to social media platforms could help to identify potential terrorists trying to enter the US.
“As we’ve seen around the world in recent years, social media can be a major forum for terrorist sentiment and activity,” the spokesperson told The Hill.
“This will be a vital tool to screen out terrorists, public safety threats, and other dangerous individuals from gaining immigration benefits and setting foot on US soil.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said the new laws would impact privacy and freedom of speech.
“This is a dangerous and problematic proposal, which does nothing to protect security concerns but raises significant privacy concerns and First Amendment issues for citizens and immigrants,” American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project director Hina Shamsi told The New York Times.
“Research shows that this kind of monitoring has chilling effects, meaning that people are less likely to speak freely and connect with each other in online communities that are now essential to modern life.”