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Why US wants social media details of most visa applicants?

Topic covered:

  1. Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.

 

Why US wants social media details of most visa applicants?

 

What to study?

For prelims: The announcement.

For mains: rationale behind, concerns and ways to address them.

 

Context: The United States government has updated visa application forms to require nearly all applicants to provide their social media usernames, email addresses, and phone numbers for the past five years. The requirement to provide the additional information is in line with the Donald Trump administration’s decision to ensure more stringent screening of potential immigrants and visitors to the United States.

 

Impact:

  • The new policy will affect roughly 15 million US visa applicants around the world every year. More than a million non-immigrant and immigrant US visas are given to Indians every year. Government officials and diplomats are exempt from providing the additional information.
  • Critics say the sweeping surveillance potential of the new regulations could discourage a wide range of visa applicants. 

 

Why the change?

  • To improve screening processes to protect US citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.
  • Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen the process for vetting applicants and confirming their identity.

 

Why some are concerned?

  • Social media is an intricate map of its users’ contacts, associations, habits and preferences. Full information on accounts will give the US government access to a visa applicant’s pictures, locations, birthdays, anniversaries, friendships, relationships, and a whole trove of personal data that is commonly shared on social media, but which many may not like to share with agencies of state.
  • Research shows that this kind of monitoring has chilling effects, meaning that people are less likely to speak freely and connect with each other in online communities that are now essential to modern life.

 

Elsewhere in the world:

In 2015, Indians faced further scrutiny in Schengen visas, after it was made mandatory to provide biometric data through fingerprints and a digital photo. That requirement was already in place in the US and Britain. Currently, the UK and Canada — popular destinations for Indian visitors and immigrants — do not have any policy of collecting social media information form visa applicants.

 

Sources: the Hindu.

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