Wed | Feb 19, 2020

Suit filed challenging social media disclosure rule for US visas

Published:Thursday | December 5, 2019 | 11:33 AM
This January 25, 2010, file photo, shows the United States Department of State seal on a podium at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two organisations of documentary filmmakers filed a federal lawsuit Thursday arguing that new rules requiring United States visa applicants to register their social media handles are making them fearful of publicly speaking their minds.

State Department rules took effect in May and apply to more than 14 million applicants each year, requiring them to register all their social media handles from the past five years on about 20 different online platforms.

The requirement includes pseudonyms.

The department said collecting the additional information from more applicants “will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.”

The information can be retained indefinitely and shared around to US government agencies, and in some cases, to other governments, the lawsuit said.

The two organisations that brought the lawsuit, Doc Society and the International Documentary Association, did so because their members regularly collaborate with non-US filmmakers and other partners, inviting them to the US to talk about their films and screen their works.

They host pitch events and collaborative conferences.

The new regulations are making some members unwilling to travel to the US out of concern their information will be collected and mishandled, and some are scared to speak publicly for fear their information will be collected and misused, the lawsuit argued.

“In recent months, authoritarian and other rights-abusing regimes, including some US allies, have used information gleaned from social media to identify, locate and detain human rights advocates, journalists, and political dissidents, and even, in some instances, to have them killed.”

The lawsuit notes that Homeland Security experimented before with using information culled through social media to identify national security threats and to screen visa applicants, but an internal watchdog report found in 2017 that the process didn’t establish social media screening as an effective tool.

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