The US government will be investigating the social media background of every visa applicant as per an Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump.
According to US immigration lawyer, Brad Bernstein, the US Government is going to compile all social media handles, photos, likes, friends and associates and use that as part of the determination whether or not to allow a person into the United States of America.
“You apply for a visitor’s visa, a student visa, a work visa, the government is going to ask you for all your social media handles, they are going to go look at your Facebook, they will be looking at your Instagram,” Bernstein told Al Arabiya’s New York Bureau Chief Talal al-Haj on the ‘Diplomatic Avenue’ show..
Bernstein said that the US Government will compile social media data on all visa applicants, Green Card holders and naturalized US Citizens.
Below is the Q and A interview aired on Friday October 27 on 'Diplomatic Avenue' with US immigration lawyer and expert.
Can you explain to our viewers, how the modification of the privacy act system of records went into effect?
Well, it went to effect by an Executive Order by Donald Trump, this is not a law by Congress, this is an edict by Donald Trump that says that if you apply for a visa, you apply for entry into the US, as a Green Card holder, as a visa holder, or as a naturalized US Citizen, the US Government is going to compile all of your social media, your social media handles, your photos, your likes, who your friends are, who you are associating with on social media, and use that as part of the determination whether or not to allow you into the United States of America.
And while you are in the United States Of America, will this operation of collection of information, continue?
It will be continuing, correct.
Is it for security reasons, in the war against terror? I mean if it was against, the war against terror, some might argue, it’s justified.
Well it’s for two reasons. One, they are trying to prevent fraud, so for example, if you're coming on a visitors visa, they want to make sure you’re truly coming to visit, you’re not coming to work. If you’re coming on a student visa, they want to make sure that you’re coming to go to school and that you’re going home, you're not coming here to get married to a US Citizen.
It’s also being used for security purposes, they want to make sure that the people who are coming into the united states, are doing the right thing when they are here, they are not bad people, so they are going to be using your social media to look who you are interacting with, what you are liking, and what you are, who you are talking to, and use that as a determination whether or not you are talking or liking things that you shouldn’t be doing.
So let me ask you, do you feel this amendment of the law, the privacy law, making us securer here inside the United States?
Well, I am not sure if it’s making us more secure or not, we will figure that out as we go along, because it’s only been three or four days.
What it is doing, is pitting one group against another, it’s making people less secure, in terms of what they' are doing online, it’s making people certainly a lot more anxious, and if I was a bad person.
If I was a bad person, I would just not be giving much information about myself on social media, so really what the government is going to be doing, is looking at good peoples’ social media, who’s going to say, “oh this doesn’t apply to me” and if you are a bad person, you are just going to say “well i am not just going to go on social media anymore.”
Who are the people who are going to be affected by this new amendment?
Every person who is applying for a visa at a US Consulate abroad. You apply for a visitor’s visa, a student visa, a work visa, the government is going to ask you for all your social media handles, they are going to go look at your Facebook, they will be looking at your Instagram.
Do they ask you for your password and identity as well?
They may, but the US Government does not need it. They have the ability to go look at it anyway. Ok, so, in this day and age, they don’t need your passwords, if you think that you are going to make a photograph private, or you’re going to like a private posting, if they wanted to, I am not saying they are going to, but if they wanted to, they can pierce that and look at it.
And they can do that abroad?
They can do that abroad, the constitution of the United States, only applies to the people in the United States. Therefore, our rights to privacy do not expand beyond the borders of the United States.
How likely is it that they will practice this against people residing abroad?
Very likely, they intend to do it. They have been doing it since 2012; they have been doing it without an executive order being published. This is now by executive order. The President of the United States of America, has ordered every person who is applying for a visa, has ordered the US government to look at all their social media handles, all of their photos, what they are looking at, what they are liking. This is going to be happening on a broad scale.
Can you explain to me why there isn’t much of a media fuss about the subject?
Well I think there’s not much of a media fuss yet because it hasn’t affected the general American citizen, this is affecting people outside of the united states who are applying, this is affecting people at the airports. If you know anything about immigration law, when you are at the airport, and you are showing your visa, and waiting for that stamp, the US Constitution does not apply until they let you through that airport, you get your luggage, and you walk out of the airport. Until then you have no rights to privacy. And an American citizen who is born in the US, this doesn’t affect, it’s affecting foreigners, it’s affecting people with green cards, and even naturalized US Citizens.
So people who are not originally Americans, they have other passports, and then suddenly they go through the process of naturalization, obtain American citizenship, they will be subject to this.
They will be subject to this, and that’s probably where this will be found illegal, because there is a fourth amendment to the United States constitution for unlawful search and seizure, for rights to privacy, and you’re a naturalized US Citizen, you can’t treat naturalized US Citizens any different than an American-born citizen. We both have the same passports.
They all have the same rights, except of course for the…
To become the President of the United States.
How about American citizens, who are born here, they are through and through American citizens, but have dealings with immigrants or naturalized citizens, or Arabs, or Muslims, are they subject to monitoring?
They are not subject to monitoring, but remember this is the Department Of Homeland Security, they cover a lot more than just the immigration.
They cover the security of the United States of America. So, for example if I, as an American citizen, start corresponding by some social media handle with somebody who may be a bad person, and they get caught up applying for a visa as a bad person, and they see me corresponding, yes it can come back and haunt me.
And they can monitor you as well
If somebody hacked my Facebook, or LinkedIn, or Twitter account, and posted something negative, say, long live a terrorist in my name. Now, when they collect this information, they don’t tell me that “we are collecting this information about you.” I don’t know if they have this information recorded against me, how do i find out and explain to them, “this was a hacking, this wasn’t me?”
You cannot find out, they have something called the “freedom of information act request”, but you are not really going get any information from that. And until you actually apply for something, whether you apply for a visa, or a green card, or your citizenship, or you have problem coming into the airport, you are not going to know about it. And quite frankly, it's a big problem. How are they going to be able to sort this out, we don’t know, you are going to have to deal with this as an individual basis, as it’s happening-
People in the Middle East trying to come over for a visit, for education, for medical treatment, for whatever reason, tourism, if they want to obtain some information about the whole immigration system and it’s pitfalls, how do you advise them, where to go, who to talk to?
Well unfortunately there is no one depository where you can be helped, you really have to go and find a very good attorney who understands the “ins and outs” of the immigration process, if immigration was easy, we wouldn’t exist as attorneys here. Trust me. You know, I do a show everyday on Facebook, at “Law Offices Of Spar And Bernstein,” you can look it up at and i am on it 9 am and 12 noon New York time, and I answer immigration questions for one straight hour.