Social Media

DHS adds social media to traveler data

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The Department of Homeland Security wants travelers to tell the agency what social media platforms they use to provide a more thorough picture of visitors to the United States.

Customs and Border Protection's electronic system for travel authorization and a form for applying for the Visa Waiver Program would ask travelers to specify which social media platforms and identifiers they use, according to a public notice posted by the agency on June 23.

The agency also wants the same information indicated on the forms used for admission to the U.S. under nonimmigrant visa status.

The social media information will be used for vetting purposes, and collecting the data will give DHS "greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections" by opening up another investigative avenue for its analysts, the notice states.

The public has until Aug. 22 to weigh in on the proposed changes.

CBP began implementing a number of procedural changes to the travel authorization system in January after heavy criticism from Congress concerning possible domestic terrorism attacks involving people who overstay their visas and under new rules in the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act.

The travel authorization data supports the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa. DHS administers the program in consultation with the State Department.

CBP and DHS have been tightening the travel programs for months. A newly issued travel authorization form contains more detailed questions for visa-free applicants. In February, the State Department added Libya, Somalia and Yemen to the list of countries that aren't eligible for the program; they joined Syria, Iran and Iraq on the list.

CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske told the House Appropriations Committee in March that applications under the Visa Waiver Program are now "vetted every 24 hours against a series of databases." Previously, only an initial check of applicants was conducted.

The screening is done by CBP's National Targeting Center, the agency's primary point of contact between the Terrorist Screening Database and agents in CBP field offices and other government agencies.

Kerlikowske told lawmakers that he has requested funding for an additional 40 people for the center, which "is a real jewel" in CBP's arsenal.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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