Insights & Analyses

Homeland Security may require US visitors to provide social media passwords

February 9, 2017

Certain visitors to the U.S. may be required to provide the Department of Homeland Security the passwords to their social media accounts, according to recent testimony from the department’s secretary.

In testimony on Tuesday, DHS Secretary John F. Kelly told Congress that his organization is considering requiring visa applicants from seven Muslim-majority countries to provide login credentials and passwords in order to gain entry to the U.S.

“We want to say for instance, what websites do you visit, and what are your passwords, so that we can see what they do on the internet,” Kelly said. “We want to get on their social media, with passwords … if they don’t cooperate, then they don’t come in.”

Kelly insisted that these measures were not currently being implemented, but that “these are the things we are thinking about.” According to a leaked memo from 2011, the Department of Homeland Security had previously considered implementing similar measures,  but they were not adopted.

In response, digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation told One World Identity that Kelly’s comments represent the latest in what it calls a “steady progression of overreach” by DHS. They cited the fact that in December, U.S. Customs, under the direction of DHS, already began asking foreigners from visa waiver countries for their social media accounts.

“Whether border agents demand usernames and passwords to social media accounts or access apps, such searches can lead to private communications,” EFF staff attorney Sophia Cope said. “Such practices violate human rights norms around free speech and privacy for foreigners and implicate the constitutional rights of Americans.”