Today in The Guardian there is a piece about possible changes to entry requirements for the US. Apparently, US authorities are considering compelling foreigners to hand over their social media passwords under a new ‘extreme vetting’ policy. Non-US citizens could be compelled to give access to devices and personal data or risk being denied entry. Click on the link above for further details. It is quite legally technical.
I am more interested in the fact that this is even a conversation. Even being considered. If 'extreme vetting' begins to take hold, we will have the US denying entry to foreigners based on their digital presence. We will have China which still censors/refuses so much internet content. And we will have Russia where free speech is ever more dangerous. What an example from the three biggest nations on the planet. To say nothing of what goes on everywhere else or what other restrictions the Americans,Chinese and Russians are enforcing.
So how might this work for travel to America? The article talks about the high level of discretion in the hands of border staff. So will it just be a racist policy? They will automatically ask to see your phone or laptop if you are black, Muslim etc. Or will there be agents who pick on women? And what about children - whose lives are conducted online far more than most of their parents? Most under eighteens entering the States are on holiday. Clutching their phones, tablets, laptops.
The process to enter the US is already tedious, even if you travel regularly. They surely cannot inspect everyone’s devices as well? And if, fearing refusal of entry, you meekly hand over your phone and show them your Facebook page or your Twitter feed, will it be based on what is on your timeline at that moment or will they trawl everything? Would they keep lists of anti-Trump hashtags to use as markers? Or lists of naughty bloggers (!)?
Other governments need to forcefully protest this. The fact the Trump administration believes there is even a consideration for this to happen is extremely disturbing.
We and preceding generations have fought for freedom of speech. Western governments have claimed for decades to be doing what they do national security-wise to protect our freedoms and our democracy (let's not get into that now. Whole other nightmare).
Where the US leads, we absolutely must not follow.