Tinkering with the Visa Waiver Program

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

December 30, 2016

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is back in the news, but this time with an encouraging note. The program which allows visitors from certain pre-approved nations to enter the United States for stays of 90 days or less without a formal visa, but with an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) pass, has been the target of increasing criticism.

In terrorism climate, State should cancel VWP.

More than 35 countries, assumed friendly to the U.S., are on the VWP list. The problem, however, is that in the era of increased immigration and refugee resettlement in Europe, many second-generation children born in Germany, France, Sweden and elsewhere may still embrace the terrorist ideals of their ancestral nation.

In order to help weed out potential terrorists, the State Department proposes to give VWP visitors and business travelers the voluntary choice to put in their social media information on their ESTA applications by selecting a dropdown menu option to enter their Facebook, Instagram and other online names they may use. The proposal was added to the Federal Register by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), part of the Department of Homeland Security, last Thursday. CBP will seek public comment for 60 days.

Travelers with something to hide are unlikely to exercise their option. But privacy rights advocates claim that visitors not wanting to be denied entry would feel that their chances are improved if they fill out the social media section.

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Centre for Democracy and Technology, told the BBC that “Democracy in general requires having spaces free from government scrutiny and increasingly social life happens online.”

The additional requested data is semantics. In this era of increasing terrorist threats, the VWP should be canceled. From a security perspective, not a single valid reason exists why travelers who want to visit the U.S. as tourists or to conduct business should not have to go through the complete visa application process.
 

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