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Obama Admin Is Gunning For Global Social Media Surveillance

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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The U.S. government started asking visitors to the country Tuesday for their social media accounts in an attempt to vamp up security and detect terrorist threats.

Foreign travelers on the visa waiver program are asked if they want to “enter information associated with your online presence,” like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Google+, according to Politico.

While the policy is technically optional, it drew large amounts of criticism earlier in the year when the procedure was first discovered by privacy advocates. A diverse coalition of 28 different organizations urged authorities to drop the planned policy. (RELATED: FBI Signs Key Contract For Social Media Surveillance)

“This program would invade individual privacy and imperil freedom of expression while being ineffective and prohibitively expensive to implement and maintain,” the consortium’s letter to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reads.

The new policy is intended to “identify potential threats,” a spokeswoman for CBP told Politico. The additional questioning is part of a larger process called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) that is required for most foreign travelers that enter the country.

“The choice to hand over this information is technically voluntary,” Nathan White, senior legislative manager of Access Now, a digital rights advocacy group, told Politico. “But the process to enter the U.S. is confusing, and it’s likely that most visitors will fill out the card completely rather than risk additional questions from intimidating, uniformed officers — the same officers who will decide which of your jokes are funny and which ones make you a security risk.”

Opponents like White worry that other countries, both democratic and non-democratic, will follow suit and request social media information from Americans, which could potentially endanger visitors.

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