Documentary film groups sue to stop US from collecting social media info from visa applicants
Posted December 5, 2019 4:52 p.m. EST
CNN — Two documentary film groups sued the Trump administration Thursday over its collection of social media information on visa applications.
The lawsuit, filed against the departments of State and Homeland Security, alleges that the social media registration requirement chills protected speech and deters people from applying for visas to travel to the United States.
Over the summer, the State Department began requesting "most" US visa applicants provide information on their social media accounts, according to department official at the time.
Since the requirements took effect, nearly everyone applying for US visas from abroad have been compelled to disclose social media identifiers for the preceding five years, according to the lawsuit. Social media platforms include: Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, LinkedIn, Myspace, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine, and YouTube.
Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union brought a lawsuit in federal court seeking records related to social media surveillance by the government -- the policies that govern the process and the tools used to do it.
The organizations, Doc Society and the International Documentary Association, also alleged that the requirements are "especially significant" for people who use pseudonyms, arguing that many people use pseudonyms on social media so that they can speak anonymously about sensitive or controversial issues.
According to the lawsuit, members and partners of the documentary organizations now use social media more cautiously or not at all "for speech that could be construed as controversial or political."
Some people who had considered applying for visas to visit or work in the United States have decided against it to avoid surrendering social media information to the US government, according to the lawsuit.
"Social media screening has already deterred some of our members from applying for visas, preventing them from participating in recent US film festivals and limiting their ability to tell their stories to US audiences," said Simon Kilmurry, Executive Director of the International Documentary Association in a statement.
DHS did not immediately respond to questions regarding the lawsuit or its retention policies. A State Department spokesperson said the department will not comment on pending litigation.
Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight Institute, one of the organizations representing the documentary groups, argued that the requirement violates the First Amendment and that the government has "no legitimate interest" in collecting this sensitive information at this scale.
The lawsuit is challenging both the registration requirements and the retention of the social media information.
State Department and DHS policies "contemplate that information collected" through the requirement will be "retained indefinitely, disseminated widely within the U.S. government, and, in some circumstances,disclosed to foreign governments," reads the lawsuit.
For example. DHS maintains copies of the State Department's nonimmigrant and immigrant visa data stored in its own system of records, according to the lawsuit.