Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other tech firms are criticizing the Obama administration for a proposal that would seek to weed out security threats by asking foreign visitors about their social media accounts, reports Politico. The Department of Homeland Security has been weighing whether to prompt foreign travelers arriving on visa waivers to disclose the social media websites they use and their usernames for those accounts as it seeks ways to spot potential terrorist sympathizers. The government unveiled its plan this summer amid widespread criticism that authorities aren’t doing enough to monitor suspicious people for signs of radicalization, including the married couple who killed 14 last December San Bernardino, Ca.
Tech companies said yesterday that the proposal could “have a chilling effect on use of social media networks, online sharing and, ultimately, free speech online.” The companies’ trade group, the Internet Association, said the government’s draft rule would grant customs officials access to foreigners’ private lives, because users often post sensitive details, from their political beliefs to their sexuality, on social media pages. It could also cause trouble for U.S. travelers, the group argued. “Should the U.S. Government advance with the DHS proposal it is probable that other countries will make similar requests of visitors entering their country, including U.S. citizens,” the companies wrote. “This will be true for democratic and non-democratic countries alike, including those that do not have the same human rights and due process standards as the U.S.” A spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection stressed that any disclosure would be “optional.”