30 December 2016

Check on social media accounts at US customs

The United States border control checks foreign travellers on social media accounts. By viewing social media accounts, the government is trying to identify ‘potential threats’.

Check on social media accounts at US customs

New question on ESTA application form

This check does not apply to all foreign travellers. Currently this applied only to travellers traveling without a Visa such as an ESTA. People who apply for an ESTA online will see that this question has been added to the form. They will be asked what kind of social media they use (for example, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram) and their account name. This question is still optional, a person is not (yet) obliged to reply to this. America’s border control could be intimidating, so many will be afraid of the consequences when they do not answer this question. Not every traveller has an account on social media, so for this reason the American CBP cannot require this. In addition, people who have something to hide might skip this question.

Travellers refuse

US border control indicates that when people do not fill in this information on ESTA, access to America is not denied. What they are going to do with potential threats they encounter during social media control is not clear yet.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

In June last year, CBP already started with their plans to check travellers on social media accounts. The Internet Association, where, for example, Facebook and Google fall into, did not agree to this. They found this plan ‘a threat to privacy and security of foreigners’.


There has been a lot of criticism about this new type of control. It feels, for many, a breach of their privacy and the right of expression. The questions asked on the ESTA form go far, and now America is still one step further, where does it end? ‘There are a few rules about how that information is collected and who can access it’, said Michael W. Macleod-Ball of the American Civil Liberties Union. For many, social media like Facebook is very personal and people often express about their belief and possible political views. Of course, this will be the main reason for America to gain this information.

Passwords social media for visa applications

The ESTA application form already requests people’s social media accounts. But the US Department of Internal Security wants to go further with the application for a Visa. He wants people not only to enter social media accounts but also their password. This is due to the enhanced screening policy for applying for a Visa for America. But remember clearly a Visa is different to an ESTA travel permit.

Seven Islamic countries

Now that the ban on banning is in progress, they want to tighten screening policies in a different way. US Secretary of Internal Security, John Kelly, indicates that it is difficult to screen travellers from the seven Islamic countries (Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Syria and Somalia). That is the main reason for implementing this measure. ‘But when they come, we want to know which websites they visit and they need to give us their password so we can see what they do on the web. If they do not cooperate, they will not be allowed to enter the US’, said John Kelly.


The password for social media accounts has not yet been requested, but the minister indicates that requests can be made on the spot. They seem to do this at local US embassies. They do not oblige travellers to enter the password of social media accounts. But when you do not cooperate, you are likely to have your Visa application rejected. So actually it seems people do not have much of a choice.

Multiple measures

John Kelly indicates that not only this measure is being considered. There are several measures to tighten the screening policies. He indicates that we must at least take more stringent control into account.


Travellers who do not need a Visa for the US should be in possession of an ESTA. For ESTA, there are currently no requests for passwords.