Will Visitors To America Be Required To Surrender Their Social Media Passwords?

There have been reports of visitors to America being required to give their phone and social media passwords to immigration officials, so will this be happening more now to travelers headed to the United States? Not long after President Donald Trump enacted his travel ban which targeted seven Muslim countries, a NASA engineer named Sidd Bikkannavar was returning to an airport in Houston after a trip to Chile and found himself detained by immigration officials.

Bikkannavar, however, was born in the United States and had also planned on having expedited entry back into his home country by participating in Global Entry, a program which speeds up American citizens returning from abroad who have had background checks conducted in advance. But after this NASA engineer got off the plane, he was still asked by CPB agents to give them his phone and hand over his social media passwords so that they could run a further check on him.

Sidd Bikkannavar was not comfortable with giving immigration officials his phone, especially as it contained sensitive data from NASA on it, as Revolution News reported.

“I was cautiously telling him I wasn’t allowed to give it out, because I didn’t want to seem like I was not cooperating. I told him I’m not really allowed to give the passcode; I have to protect access. But he insisted they had the authority to search it.”

NASA employees on July 14, 2015. A NASA engineer was asked to give the password to his phone by immigration officials.[Image by Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images]

After the NASA engineer explained that he didn’t want to hand over his phone to the officer, the CBP insisted that they had the legal authority to ask him for his password to see what was on his phone and as proof gave him a copy of a document called “Inspection of Electronic Devices.”

If immigration officials are able to legally ask for the phone and social media passwords of American citizens, will they be doing this to those visiting the United States too? The government would like those traveling from seven predominantly Muslim countries to give up their social media passwords when they apply for U.S. visas.

John Kelly, the Homeland Security Secretary, recently spoke at a congressional hearing and suggested that U.S. visa applicants who refuse to comply and hand over their social media passwords will not be allowed entry into the United States

“We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say? If they don’t want to cooperate then you don’t come in.”

Numerous civil liberties organizations have gotten together to oppose any future plans to force travelers to the United States to give up their phone or social media passwords and have released a statement claiming that not only would this invade the privacy of those visiting America, but it would also harm tourism and hurt those who visit the United States on business-related trips.

“This proposal would enable border officials to invade people’s privacy by examining years of private emails, texts, and messages. It would expose travelers and everyone in their social networks, including potentially millions of U.S. citizens, to excessive, unjustified scrutiny. And it would discourage people from using online services or taking their devices with them while traveling, and would discourage travel for business, tourism, and journalism.”

The Say No to DHS Social Media Password statement also says that no one should be forced to share their passwords and that governments should not be undermining security by asking for them, as they did to Sidd Bikkannavar, the NASA engineer, when they asked to look at sensitive data he had on his phone from NASA.

The security checkpoint at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on June 2, 2015. [Image by Scott Olson/Getty Images]

How do you feel about immigration officials asking for phone and social media passwords, and do you think this could ever be a requirement in the future for those who are visiting America?

[Featured Image by Carl Court/Getty Images]

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