This week the White House told The Wall Street Journal that any foreign visitor to the U.S. may have to hand over the password to their bank account, Facebook profile or computer as part of the “extreme vetting” process the Trump administration plans to implement.
“If there is any doubt about a person’s intentions coming to the United States, they should have to overcome—really and truly prove to our satisfaction—that they are coming for legitimate reasons,” Gene Hamilton, senior counselor to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, told The Wall Street Journal.
According to a review of current procedures, this entails invasive questioning about a visitor’s possible ideology, which border guards may conduct by looking through private documents and photos.
The WSJ reports that the new changes will affect everyone from refugees to tourists, and will more than likely apply to visitors from non-Muslim majority countries such as Germany, the U.K., and Japan.
While the WSJ reports that customs officials have already asked to see cell phones on occasion, the decision to make this a routine procedure constitutes a major change in U.S. border strategy.
Proponents say this practice will provide border officials with the necessary intelligence to inform their decision-making process.
“The goal is to figure out who you are communicating with…What you can get on the average person’s phone can be invaluable,” a senior Department of Homeland Security official told the WSJ.
Others disagree and say that the practice is ultimately ineffective.
“The real bad guys will get rid of their phones. They’ll show up with a clean phone,” Leon Rodriguez, who was in charge of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services until this past January, told the WSJ. “Over time, the utility of the exercise will diminish.”
Some experts say that the biggest victim may not be travelers but the U.S. tourism industry, which according to the Boston Globe is experiencing its biggest slump since 9/11 due to the Trump’s administration actions.