Your WhatsApp Group Chat Could Now Deny You Entry to the United States

Aug 28, 2019

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An increasing number of passengers are being refused entry at US borders because of their social media activity. Whether sent by them or received by them, messages, images and videos on travellers’ phones have blocked them from entering the country.

Since June, most visa applicants travelling or moving to the US have been required to list five years of social media handles/profiles, email addresses and phone numbers on their applications as part of the current administration’s ‘extreme vetting’ policy. But the search of your personal life and how you communicate with friends and family doesn’t end there.

The policy also gives immigration officials enormous discretion and power to determine if foreigners should be granted access to the country, even if they have satisfied all other entry requirements like ESTA approval. This includes the power to search the traveller’s personal devices for anything suspicious. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) deny hundreds of potential entrants every day and do not have to give reasons. Almost 100 devices like mobile phones and laptop computers are searched every day, including those of US citizens. This means unlocking your device when you land and allowing a CBP officer to hunt through the phone to find, well… Anything.

The BBC reports one of the most extreme cases was where a Harvard freshman student who was also a Palestinian national was denied entry in Boston for his friend’s social media activity.

CBP searches can include messages sent and received in WhatsApp. This means that a funny meme shared in a WhatsApp group chat by someone you barely know could face scrutiny from a Customs and Border Protection officer next time you land in the US.

Not every passenger will be searched in this manner, given there are more than one million people entering the US every single day. But it is worth being aware of what is on your phone next time you’re landing at a US airport as you may be required to hand it over for searching.

Featured image by WhatsApp

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