Tues 5/29: Last day to comment on 5-yr. media scan on visa visitors.

The Trump administration is continuing to try to wall us off from the rest of the world, proposing  that anyone seeking a visa to visit the United States be required to allow the State Department to review their last five years’ worth of social media posts.  (38 mostly white-majority countries or favored trade partners, are exempt from visas unless a traveler visited particular Muslim-majority country since 2011.) This invasive step is likely to drive away students, tourists and business from our country. Today is the FINAL DAY (5/29) to submit comments in opposition to this change.

Comment here.

Read the proposed rule here.​

So far, there are only 448 comments. Join in!

Here are some samples to get you started. Read more here.

Sample Comment: I am writing to voice loud concern about this new extreme vetting measure, which will be very detrimental to inbound international tourism from around the world. For the past 18 months our visibility of a welcoming country has been smeared and the loss of market share already evident. Tourists are now second guessing their plans to visit the Unites States, and that is without this vetting measure. Those of us in this industry have already seen a slowdown in international tourism. If this is put into place, the losses we will experience will be catastrophic to one of the nation’s largest employers and top economic drivers.

Sample CommentI think this is a short-sighted, reactionary and misguided policy that will ultimately prove damaging to our country, both of its perception abroad and in its economic effects at home. This will not improve security as people with hostile intents towards the US will not openly advertise these intents on social media prior to trying to enter the country. Rather this appears to be the administration’s pandering to political divisiveness that has become emblematic of this presidency. I urge the US state department to reject this regressive and unwarranted attack on foreign nationals wishing to enter this country through the Non-immigrant Visa application process. The risk of alienation andeconomic depression far outweighs any perceived or contrived security benefit.

Sample CommentI am very concerned about this regulation. I work with international students and the added measures may push them to study in other countries such as Australia, Canada or the UK. International students added nearly $37 billion to the U.S. economy, created 450,000 jobs in 2016. Moreover, the presence of international students in the U.S. provides invaluable cultural, academic, and social benefits to their universities and surrounding communities. These stricter regulations make the U.S. appear unfriendly to international students contributing to an ever-increasing negative impression among our potential international applicants. I believe this policy will contribute to a decline in international students, which will surely have a unfavorable effect on the Amercian higher education system.

Sample CommentI’m commenting in opposition to this proposal to collect social media information from visa applicants. As a professional in higher education, I fail to see how this would improve national security or foster the diverse exchange of students around the world as higher education should. International students applying for visas already have an intense approval process in which they have to clearly demonstrate their intention to return home. And students do return home! The large majority of students who graduate from our university return home, often becoming prominent business people or holding prestigious government positions. There is no legitimate argument that the government can make to prove that they need more information from these students to make them acceptable candidates for a visa to study in the United States.

Sample Comment: The proposal to require nonimmigrant visitors to the United States to disclose their social media handles is inappropriate. Social media handles would allow the government to screen social life conducted online for months or years to examine messages sent by visitors regarding a number of topics, including social life, work and similar. It is essentially a request for a recording of most of a visitors’ conversations for the last five years, and is a deep violation of privacy. It raises concerning questions aboout the intention of the state department to screen visitors by nonviolent and noncriminal political opinions or social ties.

Additionally, it opens up the agencies responsible for enforcing it to accusations of negligence. Inevitably it will be impossible to read through years of posts for every visitor, meaning much of the information will be stored but not reviewed. It is possible – even likely – that one or more visitors who have ties to organizations engaged in political violence will have posted about and will nevertheless be missed. In other words, the data could be useful only retroactively, after an individual visitor has come to the attention of the parties responsible for other reasons.

Sample Comment: This proposal has the potential to do much damage, and elicit a lot of ‘false positives’, especially when attempting to use automation and software to trawl through applicants’ social media sites.

Firstly, what kind of checks and balances are in place to ensure that (a) algorithmic “predictive assessment” is reviewed fairly and impartially by trained officers, and (b) that there exists a right of appeal & review for applicants who feel they have been unjustly assessed, and who wish to determine if social media underpins the reason for rejection of application?

News reports that I have seen covering this topic estimate that between 14 and 15 million such U.S. visa applications would be processed each year. Such volume is bound to invoke the use of automation of some kind in order to scrutinize an applicant’s online/social media activity.

In May 2015, it was reported in the London Guardian news that FBI & US Justice Dep’t officials had admitted to using what was called “predictive assessment” for creating no-fly lists and broader watchlists, which liberally included people who had no history of being charged of any violent crime. The admission indicated that passengers were not allowed to fly because of what the government believes they MIGHT do, and not what they have already done.

With regard to social media, I am concerned that indirect contacts, “followers” or “friends” who are not personally known to a visa applicant could easily raise red flags that run the risk of ruining an applicant’s chances of entry . ‘Guilt’ by online association, if you like.

In April 2017, wired.com published a report explaining that government agencies do not write their own algorithms for ‘predictive assessment’ type software. It cited the criminal justice system as an example of where there was lack of oversight in utilizing algorithms for assessing, for example, the risk of defendant re-offending. Such lack of oversight, according to the article,….”risked eroding the rule of law and diminishing individual rights”. The article went on to say that there is no federal law that sets standards or requires the inspection of these tools. Another red flag in my opinion.

In January 2018, the same website discussed a study done by Dartmouth College researchers on a popular algorithm entitled “Compas”. The study concluded that the algorithm risk assessment predicts recidivism about as well as a random online poll of people who have no criminal justice training at all. One of the researchers said: “There was essentially no difference between people responding to an online survey for a buck and this commercial software being used in the courts”.

Alarming stuff, especially if such algorithm is utilized to assess millions of visa applicants every year.

When this proposal for requiring 5 years of social media history for visa applicants first came out, the ACLU rightfully responded with grave concern, saying: “It changes a routine procedural crosscheck into a complex subjective assessment involving millions of visa applications. It implicates the privacy rights of tens of millions of Americans who might fall among the social media contacts of one or more of the millions of applicants. It could have a potentially chilling effect on those Americans who will be concerned that their social media posts will be collected and retained by government agencies.”

There is also the risk that a social media user’s political/social views, even if not violating any laws or terms of service, can be used against an applicant or anyone merely linked online with them. According to one counsel with 15 years immigration experience, there have been instances of US government agencies targeting individuals & businesses based on their political preferences.

I think there is serious need to rethink this proposal. Not only does it risk unduly incriminating applicants who don’t deserve such, but it is also risks straining relations between the U.S. and ally nations if abuse of such practice gets out of hand, not to mention impacting on tourism.

In any case, it baffles me why State Dep’t would even bother asking such history from an applicant, when they clearly have affiliates with expanded powers and resources to surveillance pretty much anyone they want (e.g. NSA, FBI). This makes a social media history request sound like more like an ‘honesty test’ rather than a useful tool, especially when algorithms are involved.

Even if the proposal was only intended for examining social media accounts in instances where ‘reasonable suspicion’ arose, this would still need to be subjected to checks, balances and oversights – not to mention right of appeal and review. 

This is not “extreme vetting”. This proposal as it stands is more of a deterrent against freedom of speech than anything else. And I suspect it is unlikely to deter terrorist units who realize how much social media is heavily watched, and would therefore employ other means.

REFERENCES:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/aug/10/us-no-fly-list-predictive-assessments https://www.wired.com/2017/04/courts-using-ai-sentence-criminals-must-stop-now/ https://www.wired.com/story/crime-predicting-algorithms-may-not-outperform-untrained-humans/
https://www.rt.com/usa/422988-lawyers-react-facebook-vetting-proposal/ https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/aclu_comment_to_cbp_on_social_media_pra.pdf 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/31/us-visa-social-media-tourism 

 

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