For months now, scrutiny over President Donald Trump’s various travel bans and immigration orders has focused largely on who isn’t allowed into the United States (Muslims) and who’s getting kicked out once they’re here (pretty much everyone). But now we have a glimpse at another part of the president’s plans for policing the border: Sliding into your DMs.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Department of Homeland Security is exploring plans for U.S.-bound visa seekers to provide their social media handles and passwords to authorities. The Journal reports that both public and private communications between friends would be subject to scrutiny before a person would be allowed into the country.
According to a source identified as a “senior DHS official,” the goal is to “figure out who you are communicating with,” which doesn’t sound like a huge invasion of privacy at all.
“What you can get on the average person’s phone can be invaluable,” the same official added.
While cell phone searches are a legal tactic used by border officials on a case-by-case basis, the administration’s plans represents a dramatic expansion of scope.
If enacted, these expanded plans, which have not been discussed publicly, would be part of the president’s promise of so-called “extreme vetting” for those coming to the United States. The Journal notes that even visitors from allied countries with whom the U.S. already participates in a strictly monitored Visa Waiver Program could be subject to the new rules. It’s a move that builds on what many civil rights experts already worry is a gross violation of privacy.
“There’s absolutely no reason why the federal government should be asking you for your password to your computer or your social media without a warrant. Period,” Council of American-Islamic Relations Director of Government Affairs Robert McCaw explained earlier this year. “There’s no justification.”
Still, DHS officials in the Trump administration have enthusiastically backed such broad searches in the past.
“We want to say for instance, ‘What sites do you visit? And give us your passwords,’ so that we can see what they do on the internet,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Congress during a hearing this past February. “If they don’t want to give us that information then they don’t come.”
Meanwhile, burner phones can be purchased at just about every convenience story in the country.