THE US requirement that visa applicants must submit all information about their social media accounts is ironic, to say the least, coming as it does from the land that espouses privacy and free speech. The US State Department policy demands that all visa applicants give details about their social media accounts used in the past five years. While the popular platforms are listed, there is the option to provide additional information. Also required are telephone numbers and email addresses used in the past five years, details of international travel and deportation status, etc.
Even as national security requirements may provide a fig leaf to the drastic measures, there is a certain disquiet about the requirements. The knowledge of the possibility of monitoring has a chilling effect on the interaction of people, especially online. Freedom of expression is sure to suffer as those even contemplating a visit to the US would self-censor their comments on social media, lest they befoul their chances of seeing the ‘promised land’. Even as the voracious appetite of intelligence agencies for personal data is insatiable, now the visa applicants would be serving, on a platter, access to all manner of personal data-photos, locations, etc. The requirement for information in visa forms is always extensive and includes much personal and financial details, but the new rules have ratcheted up the post-9/11 requirements, which were in themselves much enhanced.
It is difficult to imagine that every year, all 1.4 crore applicants’ information would be gone through with a fine tooth comb. It is highly likely that the number would be brought down and some would be selected for special scrutiny. This is precisely what was done earlier, and by one estimate only about 65,000 applicants warranted such attention. Why then throw such a wide dragnet? Political optics may have trumped pragmatism in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’. A pity.