Visa applicants “must consider the risk that a U.S. official will misinterpret their speech on social media, impute others’ speech to them, or subject them to additional scrutiny or delayed processing because of the views they or their contacts have expressed,” the lawsuit said.
Demanding the data also creates the risk that authoritarian and other rights-abusing governments, “including some U.S. allies,” may use it to unmask anonymous dissidents, it said.
“Those who use pseudonymous identifiers must take into account that they will have to relinquish their online anonymity to U.S. officials when they submit their visa applications, and they must also consider the risk that U.S. officials will disclose their social media identifiers to foreign governments, reveal the identifiers inadvertently, or fail to protect the identifiers from third parties who might access them unlawfully.”
The lawsuit was jointly developed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. They are representing the two documentary film organizations — Doc Society, based in Brooklyn, and the International Documentary Association, based in Los Angeles — that host conferences and workshops that bring foreign filmmakers and social activists to American soil.
While most of the people affected by the new rule are foreigners abroad, who generally do not have constitutional rights, the lawsuit noted that the requirement also covers people with substantial ties to the United States, including people already residing on domestic soil — like foreign students and foreigners with work permits — who renew their visas while abroad.
Since the change took effect, visa applicants from abroad have been compelled to disclose to American consular officials all social-media handles or user names they have used on major platforms, 12 of which are based in the United States: Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Myspace, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine and YouTube.
The forms also ask about a Russian service, VK; a Belgian one, Twoo; a Latvian one, Ask.fm; and five Chinese sites: Douban, QQ, Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo and Youku.