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Your social media history could determine your US visa eligibility

SimonQ錫濛譙 via Flickr

This statement was originally published on openmedia.org on 2 August 2017.

The right to freely express our thoughts and political views online is under serious threat.

The Trump administration has recently pushed forward deeply worrying new rules for people applying for U.S. visas. Now, some people are being asked to provide every social media handle they used over the past five years – enabling government bureaucrats to scour through everything they've posted on those accounts.

There's no indication of what sorts of posts would lead to an applicant being denied a visa, and no effective checks on the decisions made. Essentially, government bureaucrats now have arbitrary power to determine who gets a visa, based on their subjective interpretation of an individual's social media postings.

Sound outrageous to you? You're not the only one. Together, we're flooding the office responsible for approving these measures with faxes (yes, you read that right!). Will you help?

Click to send an urgent fax from your computer!

Vulnerable people are at risk from this. Over 65,000 people from countries all over the world are expected to have their social media activity reviewed, under this new rule.

And what's more, it puts Internet users everywhere at risk of self-censorship. It sends a message that at any point, governments could change the rules to make anything you've ever tweeted or instagrammed a basis for making decisions about your ability to visit, work in, or move to another country.

This 'chill effect' has huge implications for our freedom of expression. Should you tweet that criticism of Trump's immigration policy? Or post about racial discrimination at the border? Should you make your accounts private instead of public? When we begin to fear political repercussions as a result of expressing ourselves, it means our free speech is under attack.

The Office of Management and Budget approved these new measures at the end of May — but after educational groups spoke out to the State Department, and a consultation resulted in overwhelmingly negative feedback, they granted a 6 month emergency approval rather than the customary 3 years.

They won't be used to hearing from large numbers of outraged people. That's why we're jamming their fax machine with messages – to make sure they're overwhelmed with instant feedback that they simply can't ignore.

You can send the fax message easily in one click from your computer (don't worry, it won't cost you anything!), or customize it if you like. And just to be sure, a copy of your messages will also be forwarded to (Rex Tillerson and representatives of U.S. Consular Affairs).

We've seen a long history of officials getting it wrong when it comes to social media — from the gay man from Canada blocked from visiting the U.S. after customs officials misunderstood messages on a dating app, to the British tourists arrested at the border over Twitter jokes.

There's just over four months until this emergency approval period is over. We have to raise our voices now and make sure it isn't renewed. Together, as a global Internet community, we MUST stand together: to protect vulnerable Internet users, to defend our privacy, and to uphold free speech online.

Say no to unaccountable and arbitrary social media checks for visas — and protect our freedom of expression.

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Aprobar Ley de Seguridad Interior abre la puerta a violaciones de los derechos a la libertad de expresión e informa… https://t.co/BjIxK8e24r