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Controlling entry visa applicants’ social media accounts reveals U.S. fragility and anxiety

A few days ago, the U.S. started to implement a new visa rule that except for some diplomatic and business visa applicants, visa applicants need to offer information about their personal social media accounts in the past 5 years, no matter they are applying for a visa for travel or study. In addition, visa applicants need to turn in all used phone numbers, email addresses, outbound tourism information, and so on.

Some naive people would tend to believe in the reputation of the U.S. government and the bottom line of liberalism. But actually it’s noteworthy that as former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael Hayden stated after the Snowden incident, non-U.S. citizens’ rights are not protected by the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment. In addition, the U.S. Army’s relevant legal personnel and decision-makers confirmed in a confidential memorandum that it’s legal to monitor communication.

The U.S., who takes pride in being the only superpower in the current world, has become so anxious and fragile that it extends the method of checking social media accounts, which theoretically is only used to deal with terrorists, to U.S. visa applicants from other countries. From the perspective of individuals, it’s obviously uncomforting, because it means that personal private information is disclosed to a country which has the habits of monitoring and gathering information.

From the perspective of countries, it’s obviously disturbing, because it means that the U.S. actually can attain an asymmetrical advantage in openly gathering intelligence. From the perspective of the international system, it’s obviously not a positive or affirmative measure, especially if, in the future, it’s disclosed that the data acquired by the U.S. is not only used for anti-terrorism purposes, other actors will either imitate or create a new trend of localized data protection, and thus the so-called large transnational media platforms will face severe risks and challenges in terms of security and trust.

From the perspective of technical operation, after acquiring the visa applicants’ information such as social media accounts, email addresses, and so on, the U.S. can track relevant users’ network footprints through pairing, matching, and so on. And then the U.S. can conduct data-mining and user profiling with the support of big data and AI technologies on certain social media platforms, and then carry out precision comparison of relevant users' ideological orientations and political attitudes. Under the background of Sino-U.S. strategic gaming and trade frictions, the U.S. may identify applicants who are not conducive to U.S. national interests and deny them entry visas, if not considering other, larger loss.

As for the technology used, such operation may be typical hi-tech; but considering the logic the present-day world should follow, this is a typical drawback. In 2019, the U.S. government has already clearly demonstrated that the U.S. doesn’t want to keep its own leading position through creative competition, but through suppressing challenges to prevent vested interests from harms from significant internal changes caused by external pressures.

It’s undoubtedly critical for China to promote its own construction and avoid falling into low-level wrangling with the U.S.

Contributed by Shen Yi for Guangming Daily

Translated by Gao Xinran

[ Editor: Zhang Zhou ]