In an encouraging move, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) earlier this month denied a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) request to collect social media information on several forms used to apply for immigration and travel benefits. The DHS request would have required an estimated 30 million applicants each year to register their social media identifiers with the agency, a marked expansion of the State Department policy the Knight Institute, the Brennan Center, and Simpson Thacher are challenging in Doc Society v. Blinken. As we’ve explained, such registration requirements chill visa applicants’ speech and deter them from associating freely with others online. In its notice to DHS, OIRA explained that President Biden had rescinded the executive order giving rise to this collection and that the agency had failed to “adequately demonstrate the practical utility of collecting this information.” It said that if DHS pursues this collection in the future, it must demonstrate that the utility of registering social media information outweighs the monetary and social costs.
OIRA’s decision comes amidst a broader Biden administration review of the State Department’s and DHS’ collection and use of the social media information, which is set to wrap up by May 20. We’re hopeful that OIRA’s rejection of the DHS request is a sign that the administration will do away with social media registration requirements altogether and conclude that any speculative benefits of social media surveillance cannot justify the enormous costs to freedom of speech, individual privacy, and robust cultural exchange.
Xiangnong (George) Wang is a staff attorney at the Knight Institute.