A Trump-era rule that forces visa applicants to disclose their social media profiles to the U.S. government does little to help screen for possible terrorists, the New York Times reports. The rule raised novel questions about chilling online speech and privacy and prompted President Biden to review it. His administration has not reported any results and has kept the policy in place, including winning a ruling last month from a federal judge who dismissed a legal challenge to it. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents connected to that review. The Knight Institute, along with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, led the lawsuit challenging the rule.
Anna Diakun, a lawyer at the Knight Institute, argued that the findings showed that the government should stop collecting such data. “This is security theater, and even the government seems to know it,” she said. “Given the costs that this kind of surveillance imposes on the freedoms of speech and association, the government should have abandoned it long ago, and it should certainly abandon it now.” The lawsuit argued in part that the rule could endanger applicants from authoritarian countries. Forcing them to disclose pseudonyms they use to discuss politically sensitive matters on social media could create a risk that the information gets back to their own governments. By chilling such people from expressing themselves online, the suit argued, the rule infringed on the First Amendment. Not only did it affect the rights of Americans to hear what those applicants have to say, it also had implications for the rights of foreigners who are protected by the Constitution, like people already on American soil.