British visitors to US may be asked for passwords and phone contacts at airports
British visitors to the US may be asked for social media usernames and passwords and their phone’s address book under new border checks being considered at US airports.
The Trump administration is considering “extreme vetting” scenarios in which even tourists from US allies such as the UK, France and Germany are subject to intense security checks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“We will do it when we think there’s a reason to do it,” US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a US Senate committee hearing last week. “The vast majority of people will not be questioned in that way.” However, he did not elaborate on the plans.
Donald Trump, who was elected on a promise to strengthen US borders, has already overseen tighter controls since taking office. They include a temporary ban on travellers from six majority Muslim countries without visas, which has been blocked, and a ban on laptops and other large electronic devices as carry-ons from certain countries, which has been followed by the UK.
Mr Kelly previously floated the prospect of asking for passwords in February. “We want to say for instance, ‘What sites do you visit? And give us your passwords,’ so that we can see what they do on the internet. If they don’t want to give us that information then they don’t come,” he told the congressional Homeland Security Committee.
Border officials have the ability to refuse entry if tourists do not comply, and it is unclear what recourse those who do not want to hand over their details have.
While those who have had to hand over their details could take measures such as changing their password, or turning on two-factor authentication, which requires a code on a mobile phone to log in, this could simply lead to heightened suspicion.
The idea of forcing travellers to hand over passwords more routinely was first floated in January, shortly after Mr Trump’s inauguration, but its extent was unclear.
There have already been several examples of visitors being forced to hand over their phones and passwords in recent months. In February, while Mr Trump’s travel ban was in force, a British BBC journalist, Ali Hamedani, had to hand over his phone which was then scoured for political views.
A coalition of 131 non-governmental organisations, experts and trade associations have opposed the idea of asking for passwords, saying it “create[s] an intense chilling effect on individuals”. There have also been fears that other countries could reciprocate.
The US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) told The Guardian: “All international travellers arriving to the US are subject to CBP inspection. This inspection may include electronic devices such as computers, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones and other communication devices, cameras, music and other media players and any other electronic or digital devices.
“Keeping America safe and enforcing our nation’s laws in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully examine all materials entering the US.”