DHS adds social media to traveler data

DHS wants to ask travelers to add their social media account information to visa-vetting systems and forms.

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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.

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