Tech coalition slams Homeland Security proposal to collect social media passwords

With national immigration policies in flux, tech’s privacy advocates aren’t wasting any time rallying around common causes.

This week, the Center for Democracy & Technology, a nonprofit “dedicated to driving policy outcomes that keep the Internet open, innovative, and free,” announced a coalition to oppose efforts by Homeland Security to collect social media passwords from individuals wishing to enter the United States.

The coalition is particularly focused on visa applicants who might be forced to share their passwords under new policies from Homeland Security. Concerns were reignited in an early February committee meeting in which Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly raised the practice as a possibility. While critics and privacy advocates fear expansion of border authorities under President Trump, it’s worth noting that this particular policy actually has its roots in the Obama administration.

“DHS should take the idea of making blanket demands for passwords off the table,” Center for Democracy & Technology Free Expression Project Director Emma Llansó told TechCrunch. “The idea is unbelievably invasive and will put US citizens and foreign travelers alike at risk.”

The coalition comes on the heels of a letter from Sen. Ron Wyden to Secretary Kelly that similarly denounced government entities requesting access to locked devices and social media accounts, though Wyden focused specifically on U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Llansó lauded Sen. Ron Wyden’s effort to hold the Department of Homeland Security accountable, joining his words of caution about violating the constitutional rights of Americans.

Llansó argues that the privacy impact of these requests would bleed out, infringing on the privacy rights of U.S. citizens who are connected to accounts in question. “[Customs and Border Protection] demands for social media passwords will result in the mapping of social networks and the scooping up of millions of US citizens’ public and private communications,” Llansó told TechCrunch. The result could make all American citizens and travelers less secure.

Opponents to the DHS security proposal have rallied around the hashtag #NoPassForGov. The group’s letter was signed by a number of prominent organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Technology Association, National Consumers League, Internet Association and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

At the end of the day, many of the organizations signing onto the letter see information security and personal privacy as central to their role in the tech industry.

“We were glad to have several leading tech industry trade associations join the statement, including Internet Association, Consumer Technology Association, and the Computer & Communications Industry Association,” Llansó said. “Tech companies should send a strong message to the Administration that they take seriously their role as stewards of their users’ data and that they’ll fight proposals that make dangerous incursions into their users’ privacy and security.”

The full statement from the Center for Democracy & Technology is embedded below.