The US Customs and Border Protection Agency are proposing to add new fields to the form people fill out when entering/leaving the country—fields where travelers would voluntarily enter their social media contact information. The forms would even list social media platforms of interest in order to make it easier to provide the information.
This raises serious concerns. Some might ask, how can this be controversial if it’s voluntary? If someone doesn’t want to share the info, they’ll say, then don’t. Case closed.
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. This initiative raises some serious questions:
Is it really voluntary?
Are individuals likely to understand that provision of this information is, in fact, voluntary? If this becomes part of the standard customs declaration form, how many people will just fill it out, assuming that like the rest of the information on the form, it is mandatory?
Is the consent informed?
Fair information principles require that before people can meaningfully consent to the collection of personal data they need to understand the answers to the following questions: Why is the information being collected? To what uses will it be put, with whom will it be shared? We have to ask, will the answers to these question be known? Will they be shared and visible? Will they be drawn to the attention of travelers?
Can such consent be freely given?
In a best-case scenario where the field is clearly marked as voluntary and the necessary information about purposes is provided—can such indicia really overrule our instinctive fear/understanding that failing to “volunteer” such information can be an invitation for increased scrutiny.
Is it relevant?
Even if the problem of mandatory “volunteering” of information is addressed, what exactly is the point? Is this information in some way relevant? It is suggested that this initiative is the result of
… increasing pressure to scrutinize social media profiles after the San Bernardino shooting in December of last year. One of the attackers had posted a public announcement on Facebook during the shooting, and had previously sent private Facebook messages to friends discussing violent attacks. Crucially, the private messages were sent before receiving her visa. That news provoked some criticism, although investigators would have needed significantly more than a screen name to see the messages.
If this is meant to be a security or surveillance tool, is it likely to be effective as such? Will random trawling of social network participation—profiling based on profiles—truly yield actionable intelligence?
Here’s the problem: every individual’s social media presence is inherently performative. In order to accurately interpret interactions within online social media spaces, it is imperative to recognize that these utterances, performances, and risks are undertaken within a particular community and with a view to acquiring social capital within that particular community.
Many will ask, if information is public why worry about protections? Because too often issues of the accuracy, reliability or truthfulness of information in these various “publics” are not considered when defaulting to presumptive publicness as justification. All such information needs to be understood in context.
Context is even more crucial when such information is being consulted and used in various profiling enterprises, and especially so when it is part of law enforcement or border security. There is a serious risk of sarcasm, artistic expression, mere frustration or hyperbole resulting in the criminalization of individuals who are thoughtless (or indeed simply not thinking along the lines preferred by law enforcement agencies) rather than dangerous.
The call for comments contains extensive background, but the summary they provide is simple:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of the Department of Homeland Security will be submitting the following information collection request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and approval in accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act: CBP Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record), CBP Form I-94W (Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure), and the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). This is a proposed extension and revision of an information collection that was previously approved. CBP is proposing that this information collection be extended with a revision to the information collected. This document is published to obtain comments from the public and affected agencies.
They are calling for comments. You have until 22 August 2016 to let them hear yours. https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-14848