The last week of 2016 marked the debut of a brand new and somewhat contested measure for travelers: the United States Customs started asking selected travelers to reveal their social media details as a way to prevent terrorist attacks in the country. The measure doesn’t apply to all foreigners, but to those trying to get in Uncle Sam’s shores coming from a list of 32 countries. This list includes pretty much every European nation plus Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Brunei. American citizens aren’t affected and may travel normally.
With this being said, if you’ve just arrived from one of the affected countries under ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) aka the “visa waiver program”, you’ll now be presented with an application form demanding to disclose your social media presence. You’ll be asked to provide your account names for major platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn or YouTube and others less spoken ones such as VKontakte (Russia’s Facebook) or JustPaste.it (a popular text-sharing tool among ISIS). However, this is optional, and the Customs and Border Protection won’t deny entry to foreigners who don’t provide the information.
Nevertheless, when it was officially announced by the government, the measure was immediately opposed by a handful of tech industries and civil liberties groups. They claim that it could be a threat to free expression since social media profiles can contain vital personal information such as sexual orientation, political views and more that could shape and define anyone’s opinion. Furthermore, privacy rights activists also stated their concerns towards how the collected information would be used and possibly shared with other agencies.
Counter Measures You Can Take
These days, you can never be too careful, which means that you should take care of your online persona. Whether you’re a traveling professional/avid traveler going to the U.S. or not; social media can be where all your “secrets” are hidden. Investing in protection is more than advised and with this being said one of the best ways of doing so is by encrypting your internet traffic and data using a VPN. These services protect and encrypt your data thanks to specially designed protocols and secure tunnels and also have your back while on dubious public Wi-Fi networks. But in what social media is concern, be careful about your own publications, statements, likes and whatnot. Consider having two profiles: one personal and another one for professional matters. Keep your personal profiles the most private possible, restricting their visibility and using two-factor-authentication if possible.
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