Trump administration wants to force visitors to US to reveal social media passwords and answer questions about political beliefs

The latest crayon-scrawled, unconstitutional, sure-to-be-challenged plan from the Trump White House for America's borders would require visitors to the US to reveal their social media passwords so CBP officers could read their private messages and look at their friends lists; they will also have to answer questions about their political beliefs — the plan would cover visitors from all over, including countries in the US Visa Waiver program.

There's a certain logic to that last part, inasmuch as it acknowledges that being Canadian or Japanese or German doesn't make you a better, more trustworthy person than someone from Syria or Iran or Pakistan. On the other hand, I'd always hoped that the death of that cherished, racist illusion would be accompanied by the elevation of people from the global south to the same human status as their rich-country brethren; not a race to the bottom where everyone gets demoted to the "suspicious foreigner" box.

Of course, border guards will have discretion about who they subject to this kind of "vetting," so this is most likely really about treating all brown people — regardless of passport — like they come from Somalia.

The press coverage of this quotes loads of people who've worked in counterintelligence and border security stating the blindingly obvious: "bad guys" will just manufacture clean social media presences and cross over with burner devices, and so will business travelers and the like, as soon as other governments start subjecting Americans to this treatment at their borders. It's a trivial measure for actual terrorists to overcome (especially as the platforms deploy a much-needed travel mode), but it will allow border guards to play Cardinal Richelieu: "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

Kelly told a House homeland security committee hearing in February: "We want to say for instance, 'What sites do you visit? And give us your passwords,' so that we can see what they do on the internet. If they don't want to give us that information then they don't come."

At the time his comments provoked a swift backlash from a coalition of dozens of human rights and civil liberties groups. They said in a joint statement: "This proposal would enable border officials to invade people's privacy by examining years of private emails, texts, and messages.

"It would expose travelers and everyone in their social networks, including potentially millions of US citizens, to excessive, unjustified scrutiny. And it would discourage people from using online services or taking their devices with them while traveling, and would discourage travel for business, tourism and journalism."

'Extreme vetting' would require visitors to US to share contacts and passwords
[David Smith/The Guardian]