Homeland Security

Tech firms, privacy groups slam DHS password collection plan

 

A coalition of tech companies and civil liberties organizations issued a letter slamming a proposal that Customs and Border Protection officials could begin collecting social media and mobile device passwords as a condition for travelers to enter the United States.

The letter's signatories also include individual tech and legal experts from universities around the world, as well as 50 groups representing journalistic, digital privacy, constitutional and religious interests.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represents tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, is also a signatory. In a separate statement, CCIA president and CEO Ed Black called the proposal "unprecedented and unwarranted."

At a Feb. 7 House Homeland Security Committee hearing, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testified that DHS would consider including social media password collection at border crossings as part of its developing "extreme vetting" protocols.

"We recognize the important role that DHS plays in protecting the United States' borders and the challenges it faces in keeping the U.S. safe," the letter reads, "but demanding passwords or other account credentials without cause will fail to increase the security of U.S. citizens and is a direct assault on fundamental rights."

The letter also states that allowing border officials to search through private communications would "expose travelers and everyone in their social networks, including potentially millions of U.S. citizens, to excessive, unjustified scrutiny" and create "an intense chilling effect" that would discourage travel and the use of online services.

Additionally, the groups argue that such practices would "likely" set a precedent for other governments to follow suit and would ultimately "compromise U.S. economic security, cybersecurity, and national security."

Kelly's proposal has also received pushback from Capitol Hill.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) addressed a similar letter Feb. 20 to Kelly, requesting a response by March 20.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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