Immigration officials are becoming increasingly interested in foreign visitors’ social media accounts and online presence. 

In 2017, the Trump administration began implementing “extreme vetting” and introduced Form DS-5535, which requires applicants from certain countries thought to pose a potential national security risk to list their social media accounts, in addition to all countries they’ve visited in recent years and information about their family members and relatives. This policy was extended to applicants from all countries in March 2018, when the Department of State rolled out a new set of questions related to social media accounts on electronic visa applications (Forms DS-160 and DS-260).

Now there is a new twist: officials may start looking at your friends’ posts, too.

A Harvard freshman from Lebanon was recently denied entry to the United States after border agents “found people posting political points of view that oppose the U.S. on [his] friend list.”

According to Michael S. McCarthy, a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protections, 17 year old Ismail Ajjawi was “deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CPB inspection.” 

McCarthy’s statement continued, visitors must “demonstrate they are admissible into the U.S. by overcoming all grounds of inadmissibility including health-related grounds, criminality, security reasons, public charge, labor certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds.”

This development poses a few challenging questions: how do you balance national security with individual privacy? And how do you balance a desire to visit friends and family, or pursue an education or a new career, with maintaining a free online network? Applicants are becoming increasingly concerned about how they can protect their rights and privacy while complying with US immigration policies. Based on recent occurrences, it seems they may now have to worry about what people in their extended network are doing and saying, too.