Updates to the US visa application process mean families heading to the States will need to hand over their social media details. #invasionofprivacy?
Under the Trump administration, the screening process for visa applicants has become increasingly thorough. The latest set of changes require applicants to surrender five years worth of internet history. This includes all social media accounts, plus phone numbers and email addresses.
What do the changes look like?
The new social media requirement was first tabled in March 2018. It appears on the visa application as a drop down box with a list of social media platforms. You then provide your handle or username for any accounts you have held over the past five years.
The changes initially only applied to visa applicants who were “identified for extra scrutiny,” according to the ABC. However, the Trump administration has stepped it up a notch. The update requires all applicants to provide their social media history, tracing back five years.
On top of that, applicants must submit five years worth of phone numbers, email addresses, international travel, if they’ve ever been deported and whether or not someone they know has been involved in terrorist activity.
How have people reacted?
In typical Trump government fashion, the changes have proven to be extremely divisive. Supporters say it will help US authorities identify radicals before they enter the country. If an applicant has a history of sharing harmful material online, or has “checked-in to a high-risk location” recently, they will be identified for more rigorous investigation.
However, critics worry the information will be abused. The American Civil Liberties Union has voiced concerns that that collecting this information will allow authorities to “unfairly target immigrants and travellers from Muslim-majority countries.”
“This attempt to collect a massive amount of information on the social media activity of millions of visa applicants is yet another ineffective and deeply problematic Trump administration plan.”Hina Shamsi, Director of the National Security Project
What does it mean for Aussie travellers?
Australians heading to the States will still need to obtain an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) at least three days prior to travel. However, the social media fields in the ESTA application are optional. So if you’re only planning a short visit, you’re off the hook.
When you fill out the ESTA form, you’ll be given the option to submit your socials but it’s not mandatory. But there’s a touch of irony in making it optional. Chances are, people who have damming content on their social media profiles are going to leave these slots blank. The travellers that will submit their social media handles are likely not the ones we have to worry about.
I was blessed with parents who really saw the value in travel. After our first family trip abroad to Thailand, I became obsessed. I was hungry for anything new and different. I yearned to be in the middle of a city on the other side of the world with a suitcase in one hand and google maps in the other, stumbling around trying to figure out where I was going; literally and spiritually.