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Experts Protest Plans to Grab Social Passwords at US Border

Nearly 150 rights groups and tech, security and law experts have signed an open letter condemning comments from the US Homeland Security secretary earlier this month that border control officer may require travellers’ social media log-ins as a condition of entry to the country.

John Kelly told a House Homeland Security Committee that his department is currently considering the plans, claiming that those who don’t co-operate won’t be allowed to come to the US.

Since late 2016, there has been an optional policy to disclose access to social media accounts at the border, but these plans would take that to a whole new level.

The groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argued in the letter that such a move would fail to increase national security and be a “direct assault on fundamental rights.”

It added:

“This proposal would enable border officials to invade people’s privacy by examining years of private emails, texts, and messages. It would expose travelers and everyone in their social networks, including potentially millions of U.S. citizens, to excessive, unjustified scrutiny. And it would discourage people from using online services or taking their devices with them while travelling, and would discourage travel for business, tourism, and journalism.”

The proposal would also set a precedent which could see foreign governments around the world follow suit, undermining the civil liberties of American travellers and compromising cybersecurity as well as goodwill with other nations.

“The first rule of online security is simple: Do not share your passwords. No government agency should undermine security, privacy, and other rights with a blanket policy of demanding passwords from individuals,” the group argued.

In the meantime, there have been reports that some travellers are being detained by border officials and pressured into providing access to their mobile devices.

Oregon senator Ron Wyden has written a letter to Kelly, claiming he will introduce legislation soon to guarantee that “the Fourth Amendment is respected at the border by requiring officers to obtain a warrant before searching devices.”

He argued that not only does the practice violate privacy and civil liberties, but it could also “needlessly divert agency resources away from those who truly threaten our nation.”

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