British Travelers to US Have to Forfeit Social Media Passwords and Other Sensitive Data

As a part of the Trump administration’s vetting process, travelers from European countries including the UK, France and Germany could be subjected to extensive security protocols in US-based airports. According to the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), travelers from the three countries could be asked to forfeit passwords of social media accounts and phone numbers amongst other sensitive data.

In an interview, representatives of CBP stated:

“All international travellers arriving to the US are subject to CBP inspection. This inspection may include electronic devices such as computers, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones and other communication devices, cameras, music and other media players and any other electronic or digital devices. Keeping America safe and enforcing our nation’s laws in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully examine all materials entering the US.”

In February, US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly first introduced the possibility of implementing a strict vetting process for travelers. During a US Senate committee hearing held on April 10, Kelly reaffirmed the US government’s plan to tighten security measures by forcing travelers to disclose any relevant information that could be used to track their activities online.

“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. If they don’t want to give us that information then they don’t come,” Kelly said.

Senators including Claire McCaskill of Missouri expressed their concerns over this extreme vetting process for various reasons. The first was that such impractical process is a critical attack on the privacy of travelers. The second reason was quite obvious; travelers would simply lie about their passwords, social media accounts and other online identities.

“If they know we’re going to look at their phones, and we know we’re going to ask them questions about their ideology, they’re going to get rid of their phones. And guess what they’re going to do on ideology? They’re going to lie. Are we going to use polygraphs?,” McCaskill said.

A similar point was brought up in privacy-focused online communities. However, it was revealed that deleting social media applications and personal data from devices to enter the US also qualifies as one of the grounds to deny a traveler entry to the US.

In February for instance, a Canadian man by the name of Andre was denied entrance to the US for having a cleared phone. Because of his history of two subsequent denied entrances to the US, Andre presented documentation of his legal employment, bank statements and messages from his company. Still, US Customs denied the entry of Andre. He stated:

“They said, ‘Next time you come through, don’t have a cleared phone,’ and that was it. I wasn’t let through. He said I’m a suspected escort. You can’t really argue with them because you’re trapped.”

In short, travelers will be required to submit or forfeit passwords and sensitive data stored on their devices such as mobile phones or computers. If they deny to follow the new protocols of US Customs, travelers will simply be denied entry to the US.

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