The United States government seems to have a real thing for social media and terrorism, stoutly believing if only they could “take out” Twitter the global jihadi movement would collapse. Or something like that. Maybe it’s Instagram?
Social Media vs. Jihad
But while Trump talks the talk, Obama walked the walk.
You may not know it, but since December the United States quietly changed the standard online entry form (ESTA) used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a part of your neighborhood Department of Homeland Security.
The question added is “Please enter information associated with your online presence – Provider/Platform – Social media identifier.” The question is for all foreign travelers’ who use the visa waiver (visa-free) system for admission into the US The form is not used for American citizens.
The form also asks for info on citizenship, passport data, and contact information in the US, along with hilarious questions inquiring if the traveler is coming to the US to commit espionage, sabotage or terrorism (seriously; see here). Not so many people answer Yes.
The entry process for all foreigners already includes fingerprinting, photographing, an in-person interview, and numerous database checks.
The US government had 77.5 million foreign visitors in 2015. Collecting social media accounts for all visitors is producing one of the largest government-controlled databases of its kind.
And even though the social media question is voluntary, apparently most travelers have been filling in the blank out of fear of calling attention to themselves and prompting further attention at the border.
As a reminder to all those who bark fascism at every turn: this change went into effect by order of the Obama administration, not Trump’s.
And who is having their social media examined? Citizens from the visa-waiver countries. No, no, not those naughty people from the Seven Banned Muslims nations, but American allies like Japan, the UK, Germany and the like. And guess what? There’s not been a word of protest, not a single court challenge. It’s almost as if people paid no attention to any of this before Trump came long.
Mohammed Atta on Twitter?
According to the rules, the new info “will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information. Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”
So the concept is that Mohammed Atta (for example) rolls up to the Customs checkpoint at the airport, and jots down his Twitter handle as @terrorist911 and then enters the US to resume his flight lessons. Someone from Customs later trolls Atta’s account to discover “Shout out to all the brothers, gonna lay down some whoop ass on Septemb–” Ah poo, only 140 characters, now we’ll never know.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.