A proposal has been submitted to the Federal Register for the Department of Homeland Security to consider asking arriving Visa Waiver travelers to submit their social media information.
This proposal would seek travelers to provide their social media handles (Twitter / Facebook) in a designated field of the I-94W which would be marked ‘optional’.
Social media information can be used for many things though it’s entirely clear how it would be accessed if the profile settings are marked ‘private’. Twitter accounts are easier to be monitored as it’s a public profile. Travelers who previously made controversial statements such as supporting terrorism or announce they go to the U.S. for other purposes than allowed under the visa waiver program would have some explaining to do.
It’s already common for Customs and Border Protection to use google in order to quickly research suspicious individuals.
You can find the Federal Register entry here.
DHS proposes to add the following question to ESTA and to Form I-94W:
“Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.” It 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.
Even though this field is optional it’s likely that very few people would leave it open as they feel intimidated to provide the information out of fear to be denied entry or being referred to secondary inspection.
I doubt that it would have any consequences to leave the field open as I personally never provide any optional information in any form be it related to government services (including immigration forms) or businesses. The intimidation effect however is problematic and it could have more severe consequences if people actually provide their social media accounts rather then opting out since most people share way too much information on these platforms that can be used against them.
So far this is only a proposal and no decision has been made in the matter. Last December MSNBC (access here) reported that a similar proposal for vetting actual visa applicants had been rejected by top officials in charge of policy making.