The US government plans to collect social media histories from people applying for visas, a State Department plan shows. Critics say the vetting could lead to unfair discrimination and suppress free speech.
Most people applying for US visas could soon have to give details of their social media identities, travel history and previous telephone numbers and email addresses in a proposal supporting US President Donald Trump's pledge to conduct "extreme vetting" of foreigners entering the country.
According to a State Department filing from Friday, the proposal, which would affect some 14.7 million people annually, would require such information from the five years preceding the date of the visa application.
Other information to be collected includes whether applicants had ever been deported from a country and whether any of their family members had been involved in terrorist activities.
Previously, under rules introduced last May, social media identifiers were collected only when officials needed to confirm an applicant's identity or carry out more stringent security checks.
Not all travelers affected
The newly proposed rules would be used in the cases of both visitors and would-be immigrants, but not routinely for diplomatic or official travelers.
Nationals from countries where the US requires no visa, which include Germany, France and Britain, would be exempt from the social media checks, but Indian and Chinese citizens would be among those affected.
The proposal was published on Friday, and the US public now has 60 days to comment on the new rules before they are approved or rejected by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
'Chilling' effect on free speech
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has voiced concerns about what it says is a move that could have a "chilling" effect on freedom of speech and association.
The director of ACLU's National Security Project, Hina Shamsi, said statements made online by applicants could be "misconstrued or misunderstood" by government officials and that the vetting could lead to discrimination against people from Muslim-majority countries.
In the last fiscal year, 559,536 people applied for US immigration visas and 9,681,913 for various forms of visitor visas.
Trump has vowed to introduce more rigorous vetting for those wanting to enter the US in a bid to prevent terrorism.
Read more: US tourism sector reacts to "Trump slump"
tj/rc (Reuters, AFP)