Social Media Visa Vetting Sure is Orwellian, But Folks have to Get Over It
The State Department’s new proposal mandating the disclosure of a visa applicant’s social media accounts, email addresses, and phone numbers is certainly Orwellian, but people who are offended by this have to get over it because there’s nothing that they can do other than stay away from the US and any other country that decides to implement this policy.
RT reported that the State Department is proposing new regulations mandating that all visa applicants have to disclose their social media accounts, email addresses, and phone numbers that they used over the past five years in order to stand any chance of entering the US. This strict measure is supposedly because of anti-terrorist concerns but could obviously be abused by the government to filter applicants based on their sympathy towards the US and accordingly discriminate against those who the NSA identifies as “anti-American” due to the keywords, connections, and metadata associated with their name. This is undoubtedly Orwellian but nevertheless within the sovereign rights of any government to implement if they so choose, no matter the privacy concerns and contentious morality surrounding it.
The Trump Administration clearly wants to crack down on the number of foreigners entering the US, and if someone feels offended by this, then they simply don’t have to apply for a visa and plan on traveling there. Some people might want to visit US-based family members but end up having their visa application denied without any reason (though possibly having to do with their digital “anti-American” footprint), in which case their US-residing relatives would just have to go abroad and visit them instead. Statistically, they should have the funds for doing so since people living in America generally (key qualifier) enjoy a higher income than in most (key word) other places in the world, but even if they don’t have the means, then the family member who was originally going to travel to the US could possibly subsidize their relative’s trip abroad to help them manage.
Nobody should assume that they have any automatic privileges for entering any foreign country, whether it’s the US or anywhere else, and this false expectation is probably one of the reasons why people feel disappointed by the forthcoming regulations. It could also be that the prospective visitor actually believed the US’ soft power rhetoric about “freedom”, “human rights”, and “democracy” to the point of imagining that it’s a utopia of individualism and that anyone can do whatever they please including entering the country at will. The millions of illegal immigrants that invaded the US through the southern borderland probably contributed to this perception, but crossing into the country illegally is a lot different than seeking the state’s official permission to enter, which is much more controlled in all cases.
As politically distasteful as it may be to swallow, the US has the right to deny access to the country to whomever it deems undesirable based on whatever criteria it chooses, even if that includes its diplomats’ subjective assessment of an applicant’s “anti-Americanism”. To be fair, Russia, China, Iran, and every single other country in the world has the exact same right. Given that the US is a global trendsetter for better or for worse, social media visa vetting can be expected to eventually become the norm, which means that political profiling based on one’s digital footprint will be increasingly relied on as one of the main determinants in whether someone gets a visa or not. Realistically, applicants might never be informed that their visa was denied for this reason, thus implying that there won’t be any mechanism developed for them to seek redress.
As the future of international travel becomes much more regulated, people who have a digital footprint of political activism or even something as comparatively milder as expressing an unsupportive opinion of one or another country at any given time in the last five years can only assume that they’ll have the right to visit countries to which they’re entitled visa-free access based on their passports, and even those might become problematic for them in the future, too. In addition, this increasingly dystopian state of affairs would severely limit the opportunities of politically minded people from so-called “shithole countries” whose passports aren’t “privileged” enough to earn them visa-free travel to many other places, especially those in the West, thus contributing to the systemic challenges that they face simply for being born in the “Global South”.