Donald Trump government's move asking visa applicants to provide details about their social media handles has come under fire from Twitter Inc, Reddit and a group representing major internet firms.
US government rules require disclosure of all social media handles used over the prior five years by visa applicants, including ones under pseudonyms, on 20 platforms.
Applicants must disclose accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Google , YouTube, LinkedIn, Myspace, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine and Chinese sites Douban, QQ, Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, and Youku; Russian social network VK; Belgian site Twoo; and Latvian site Ask.fm.
Twitter and Reddit have filed supporting evidence for a lawsuit filed last year by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP on behalf of plaintiffs Doc Society and International Documentary Association.
The lawsuit challenges rules that require nearly all visa applicants to register their social media handles with the US government and connected policies permitting the retention and dissemination of that information.
Twitter, Reddit and the Internet Association said in their brief in the visa-applicant case that the registration policy harms those who use online aliases to more freely discuss controversial, political or sensitive issues.
“Many speakers use internet forums like Reddit and Twitter to make statements that might provoke criticism or retaliation from their communities," the companies argued in the brief. “Some employ anonymous Twitter accounts to convey disfavored political views or other information that could expose them to social stigma or loss of employment."
The State Department says the rules were prompted by Trump's 2017 order requiring heightened vetting of visa applications. It previously collected contact information, travel history, family information, and prior addresses.
The department receives more than 14 million applicants annually. The only travellers exempted from the social media rules are diplomatic and official travellers.