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US Customs wants to collect social media account names at the border (theverge.com)
234 points by jacquesm on June 27, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 167 comments

There was this idea floating around a few weeks ago, about a startup that curates online sockpuppets of obidient citizen personas (I think it was in response to landlords surveilling their future clients). What was sureley meant as sarcasm is looking more and more like a serious business model.

It is already happening in China:


I suppose the NSA would penetrate that in a heart beat.

So you would just brand yourself as proven liar - and end up having an even higher risk of being rejected at the border.

You see where this is going. If you use social media, you will have to state the truth. And you know where that leads to.

But, people's online presence is rarely who they really are. Americans are free to create whatever online presence they want to.

> Americans are free to create whatever online presence they want to.

Which are all captured by Prism and other mass surveillance programs (google "Edward Snowden").

Nobody escapes the NSA.

Point being the NSA is collecting a lot of noise.

> a lot of noise

Which will simply be filtered out. Technology does not just evolve linearly.

> Which will simply be filtered out

These were the last words of the database admin before he went stark raving mad...

But seriously "filtering out" is a goddamnd hard problem, if the dimensionality of your problem space is high enough. You are talking about filtering out sockpuppets like if they have a tcp-flag on it. Even the best trained Neural Network can only work as good as the input-training parameters, and classifying large texts in natural language is still one of hardest problems (even for humans).

There are no time limits. The complexity may be a problem now, but later the collected data will reveal anything they want about you.

>There are no time limits.

Yes there are, eventually you need to make a decision about whether to let this person into the country

Here's how it works:

Data (even encrypted data) is being collected and stored today. It is decrypted/made sense of whenever technology has reached the required maturity. At that moment, we become 100% open books. And you may feel that at the border (or elsewhere).

You will never have the technology to decrypt aes256.

By that time, open books may be less useful than the effort it takes to open them.

Isn't one of these problems that these orgs are facing is that their signal-to-noise is too rough to work with?

I thought they had info about the boston bomber, 9/11 hijackers, and san bernadino shooter, but didn't act on it because it was lost in the noise?

Technology evolves sub linearly over long time scales.

Sort of a StepfordBook?

This is disturbing despite it being "optional", because it's a place for border agents to push in the entry interview.

"I noticed you didn't fill out the question regarding online identity. Do you have an online identity?"

Sure, you can (and should) tell the agent that's all personal information, but that may also lead to further hassles and delays.

You also shouldn't say that you don't, if you have... as this would be "fraud to gain access to the USA" which is a good way to never gain access to the USA.

Therein lies a problem, just what is a social media account?

Is it Facebook and Twitter? Or does it extend to networks like LinkedIn? Or forums like Hacker News?

Do you have a Facebook account, if you believe that it has been deleted but you also suspect that technically Facebook never deletes?

Is using a dating site a social media account given that you can converse on it, swap images, etc? No? Define how Tinder or Grindr differs from Snapchat or Yik Yak... and how you'd justify the difference to US Customs.

Basically... it looks to me like either:

1. You refuse to answer and that is a red flag.

2. You lie and that is a reason to refuse entry.

3. You offer up the bare minimum and it can be construed as some combination of 1. and 2.

4. You offer up everything, and you have totally given up far more than what is revealed by just having a Facebook or Twitter account.

The question, whilst appearing simple and clear, is incredibly vague and a minefield for anyone trying to answer it.

I'm reminded of the quote from the film War Games, "The only way to win is not to play.". If travelling to the USA is part of your life, perhaps it's time to close social media accounts and just call the people you want to talk to.

Plus: I have a MySpace account but no idea what the username is, likewise Habbo Hotel. What about any website with a forum facility? My Web browser remembers all the one off usernames I make up for sites and the Recover Password feature acts as my gatekeeper.

Social media is a more general concept compared to social networks. Even IRC can be interpreted to be social media.

I noticed you didn't fill out the question regarding online identity. Do you have an online identity?"

And the punchline? Making "materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representations" to federal officials to questions like these can (per 18 U.S.C. § 1001) -- and the way things are going in this country, soon enough most likely will be used obtain felony convictions plus jail time against those so audaciously naive as to believe... this sort thing could never happen here:

Making false statements (18 U.S.C. § 1001) is the common name for the United States federal crime laid out in Section 1001 of Title 18 of the United States Code, which generally prohibits knowingly and willfully making false or fraudulent statements, or concealing information, in "any matter within the jurisdiction" of the federal government of the United States, even by mere denial. A number of notable people have been convicted under the section, including Martha Stewart, Rod Blagojevich, Scooter Libby, Bernard Madoff, and Jeffrey Skilling.


Just like you can opt out of the body scan, which induces them to yell, in front of everyone, "OPT OUT!" and then you get to stand in a little roped off area and wait for a while. So, I agree, they'll make it as painful as possible to decline.

"Pat-downs may not find weapons, so an officer will pat you down after the scanner says they should."

Airtight logic there.

The funny part about this "painful" experience is that the TSA has effectively sewn a crisp, clean, machine-embroidered "KICK ME" placard onto the backs of their own uniforms. They're such a blatantly incompetent pack of busybodies that it's actually become fun to mess with them by accepting their repeated invitation to gum up the works by opting out. -- All I have to do is stand here and grin, while you lot stumble around slowing yourselves down and tripping over your own feet? Sign me up!

More seriously, it's also the only form of civil disobedience I can think of so far that has any shot at ending this farce; if more of us opted out more of the time, the system would become unworkable, and it would have to change.

if more of us opted out more of the time, the system would become unworkable, and it would have to change.

You're saying it's workable now? While you and I are standing over there waiting for our groping, feeling smug about how we're sticking it to the man with our civil disobedience, the lines continue to back further and further out because they cut the number of agents. We're not sticking it to the man when the man himself is over there with a much bigger stick than we'll ever carry.

I still opt out, though.

Well, what else have we got? "Make it expensive" seems to be the only tool that works in this case, since they don't seem to actually care what we think about any of this.

If enough people do it they will simply remove the option to opt out.

At least that would be honest.

If you're a nonresident, the CBP officer has full discretion whether to let you in or not, and you have no right of appeal. So when the officer asks you a question, answering it is not really optional.

True. But it will be LISTED as optional on the form.

If you get an interviewed by the thugs at the border it will definitely be non-optional for all intents and purposes.

The whole thing is messed up either way. They'll no doubt just start asking you to log into your social media accounts so they can go through your personal shit, I've had US border agents go through my phone and ask me idiotic questions about the photos on it (all family vacation photos).

Entering the US or UK is a pretty terrible experience all around. They're rude for no reason (and it has nothing to do with their job), overly invasion, and their entire justification is based on their own gut rather than fact (inc. ten year bans).

PS - I have never been rejected at any border. Just been hassled a few times.

What about those many of us who do not have facebook or twitter profiles? Are we now to be red-flagged as suspicious. Perhaps this is just a marketing stunt, an attempt to force more people onto US social media platforms.

I was always very confused/amused by the questions at the border:

"Are you a terrorist or affiliate with a terrorist organization?" "Are you a secret spy"

Why would anyone say yes? What's the purpose of this. Do they just need it to avoid arguments like "we dont even ask?"

A friend of mine explained it to me:

- let's say that they have the suspicion or evidence that you are affiliated w/ a terrorist organization. by US law they would need to prove this in front of a court before they could act on it. OR they could simply show that you lied at entry and use that to expel you from the country. Simple. Done.

I am unsure what the deeper goal behind the social media accounts is but i assume it also connects to a similar strong arm argument like that.

It's not as simple as that: they would still need to make the case but you lying at the border just gives US authorities bigger evidence. Couple of years ago a French tourist answered "yes" to make fun of US borders and ended up in jail for a couple of days - not years as obviously he was more a dumb tourist than a real terrorist

> Couple of years ago a French tourist answered "yes" to make fun of US borders and ended up in jail for a couple of days - not years as obviously he was more a dumb tourist than a real terrorist

This must have made the USA so much safer.

I get the sarcasm, but given there are hundreds of millions of US border crossings annually, a policy of taking everything seriously regardless of size probably does make the US safer.

I'm sure that there are lines somewhere between 'taking things seriously', 'overreacting' and 'making examples of people'. Ask a stupid question, expect a stupid answer. It's a stupid question because nobody in their right mind would answer 'yes' to the question which just leaves people with a language barrier (which have a high incidence rate at borders), people that are nervous and/or tired (ditto, probably including some of the guards) and people that are trying to relieve the situation by attempting to be funny (stupid, but understandable since humor has been since time immemorial a natural release for tension).

Not to mention that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

"Are you a terrorist?" -> "No, but I'm a soldier for The Cause..."

I don't think it's necessarily a stupid question, because of the psychology involved with lying.

This question would likely weed out any wanna-be small time people intent on causing harm to the US. Something similar to how many criminals in the US are arrested due to routine traffic stops.

If asking this "stupid" question prevents 1 single undesirable person from entering the US, then it's served it's purpose.

At what cost?

The extra 30 seconds per person to answer this question, I imagine.

You're completely right. There are serious downsides.

However, I think this question (and a lot of the crappy things about the US) exist to deal with and automate problems at scale. Scaling is hard. Scaling solutions are overkill if you don't have a scaling problem.

In this case, the problem is strong due process protections and allocating court resources. You might not hold a person without involving the courts if you suspect them of terrorist ties, but you can if they lie on a form or tell you they're a terrorist.

I don't know the specifics, but one could imagine a concession of due process if, say, the person held for their answer on the entry card is guaranteed to appear before a judge within three days.

Automate the process and you get silly situations like the one above. Don't automate the process and somebody eventually screws up and denies due process or lets a suspected terrorist through without scrutiny.

And again, yeah, the entry questions could be handled better, but it's a serious juggling act scaling it up and fitting it into our legal framework.

He's not necessarily dumb because he made the mistake of thinking your border drones had a sense of humour. And given that English is probably not a native language for him, it's entirely possible that the sarcasm did not get through.

Quaking in fear in front of authority figures might be the norm in the USA, but it is not the norm everywhere.

Border guards aren't supposed to have a sense of humor.

Imagine how many non-resident/non-citizens enter the US daily. Now imagine if everyone of them were allowed to jokingly answer these questions. It would make doing their job that much harder.

It's much easier to treat all declarations as serious, rather than try to weed out the jokes. And because of the nature involved investigating, anyone who willing makes false statements are punished.

In that case, at least he received a gentle warning in the form of a few days in the cooler, as opposed to wandering into the US where his attitude could have easily (depending on his skin color and other factors) have gotten him a sucking chest wound for his trouble.

Best to learn not to argue with people with guns at the border.

(Somewhat tongue-in-cheek here but I actually do think this is the purpose of aggressive border authorities. As someone who traveled around old, pre-EU, pre-Schengen Europe, you used to see it quite a bit there as well. Hard to say if it was intentional or just the product of different training, though.)

I don't really have anything constructive to add to this, but the idea that the government is setting up bullys on the border to educate foreigners on how to deal with its citizens in a way that doesn't end in death, is beyond fucked up.

The border agents are looking for you to slip up or provide a tell. Asking questions like that may sound silly, but that's the point. They want to try to catch people off guard with unexpected questions and see how they react. These agents are trained to read your reaction and body language. Your body language and voice levels can help reveal some truth or at least the fact that you're uncomfortable answering the question. And why would you be uncomfortable answering a question about whether your a terrorist or not?

they want you to think they are experts with domain specific secrets passed on through craft-lore passed down from the wizened sages of border security.

But the reality is that this is no different than arson-lore (where firefighters testify based on superstitions regarding burn patterns) or leech-lore (where doctors recommend based on superstitions regarding your humoral balance) or polygraph-lore (where law enforcement interprets the squiggles of your heart to decide when you are lying).

All non-scientifically validated "lore" is just a superstition, and should be treated as such. The reality is that DHS is unable to stop terrorist attacks. Full stop. They can't possibly, in a free society.

That's ok, because that's one cost that a free society pays, but the benefits are worth it, so we carry on.

The problem is that DHS believes their own superstitions, has defined their actions to be "good" because "we're the good guys", and thinks that the public thinks they are responsible for preventing all terrorism.

This only stops when either the public demands change, or at totalitarianism. And you can't really tell, in full, when the first option disappears. You realize after you grasp for it and come up with wisps of smoke.

> Your body language and voice levels can help reveal some truth or at least the fact that you're uncomfortable answering the question.

Maybe I'm actually just uncomfortable being grilled by my own paranoid countrymen without my guaranteed Constitutional protections as though I'm some sort of enemy of the state when really I just got back from Cozumel.

If you are a US citizen returning from abroad you are likely not going to be "grilled" at the border. You'll be asked a few routine questions about where you visited, the purpose of your travel, etc.

uhh way incorrect. and I am a contractor for Customs! When I came back from the World Cup in Brasil I definitely got grilled, mainly because on my US Passport it displays the unfortunate (only when travelling) fact that I was born in Iran. Ok that and maybe because I grew a full beard that didnt match my passport photo, but still ;)

Just be respectfull as much as you can even though you just flew multiple hours and it's 1am and all you want is a clean shower and a fine meal just because Argentina lost another final... ahh sorry bad memories

You'll get to fill out a boring customs declaration forum. No carrying food into the country or smuggling in plants/animals/pets, no carrying over $5K of cash or equivalent, etc. If you have nothing to declare sometimes you didn't need to fill out the form. I never understood that in the past, perhaps it had something to do with no checked luggage (or no luggage at all) equals no declaration form.

In the old days they were lazy and handed out Visa Waiver forms to everyone on the plane. Perhaps they've stopped doing that. The Visa Waiver form is the famous "are you a terrorist?" Q+A forum. You don't have to fill that out if you're a citizen because entering the USA as a citizen never requires a visa. Theoretically if you have a visa (are a citizen of a non-visa waiver country) someone already signed for you and investigated such that you're not a terrorist and filling out a visa waiver would be pretty pointless if you require and have a visa.

Immigration officials seem to delight in pulling peoples chains, and you have nothing more interesting to do while waiting in line, so local variation and variation over time is highly likely.

> You'll be asked a few routine questions about where you visited, the purpose of your travel, etc.

The agents are usually polite and friendly. But they aren't always, and that can be intimidating and infuriating if you're a US citizen who's simply returning home from a trip.

They also treat US citizens like dirt.

Because when The Law asks questions, it is rarely innocent.

> 'Sir, when was the last time you broke the law?'

> 'Can you describe in some detail where did you spend your last paycheck?'

> 'Sir, step away from the queue. I want to ask you about this picture you took where you happen to be in front of a bank'

> 'Sir, are you innocent?'

The list of things one has to agree to in order to live in peace is getting longer and longer.

> And why would you be uncomfortable answering a question about whether your a terrorist or not?

Because it can be interpreted as accusing you of being a terrorist, which is very offensive.

Not anymore.

For better or worse the definition is being expanded such that we're all going to be classified as terrorists soon enough. Terrorists have fewer rights than the average citizen, so its inevitable.

Am I a terrorist? Well, yes, yes I am. My wife donated some money to our local mainline Catholic church and they've participated in some anti-abortion activities and some define that as financial support of terrorism. I was in the US military and I never did anything personally, but the army certainly has participated in acts that are terrorist from the point of view of other countries. Some of the worst terrorist acts happened before I was even alive, but I bet PLA members and Hezbollah members don't get a free pass for the same reason. Why the org I voluntarily joined, genocided the Native Americans just a century or so ago, and per the SS standard that makes me not just a terrorist but an unrepentant war criminal. I voted for Trump and campaigning for him is considered a hate crime on college campuses. I'm into electronics and computers and theoretically I could make a radio jammer or write a computer virus, although I'm not into that personally it doesn't sound too hard and a I certainly have the skills and gear necessary.

So in summary we've donated money from the shared checking account to financially support terrorist acts, I willfully joined an active terrorist organization in my youth (although I do have an honorable discharge, so there's that in my favor), I willfully and knowingly have terrorist / hate crime sympathies, and I have proven terrorism related interests and skills and abilities. So yeah, I am a terrorist. Many of you are too. I have to lie on my immigration forms and claim I'm not a terrorist, very annoying having to do that.

The term "terrorist" doesn't have a single fixed meaning. It's context-dependent. Pretending it's not context-dependent willfully misinterprets the speaker.

A lot of words function like this. E.g., "believer".

When a christian asks me if I'm a believer I might say yes.

But then I'd probably say no if a wiccan asked me the same question.

Obviously, that doesn't mean that everyone (or no one) is a believer once you fix some additional context.

So in summary, according to the sense in which the USFG is using the term, you're simply not a terrorist.

Everything else about your post is just a slippery slope argument, which may or may not be valid, but certainly isn't well-substantiated.

Being a context dependent term is what makes questions like these from the government a big problem. Its like Nineteen Eighty-Four where "we have always been at war with EastAsia", only now the changing term is what constitutes a terrorist, or some other group the government has decided to not like


Terms of art will always borrow and re-define colloquial language. Do programmers aspire to 1984 because they re-appropriate the word functional?

Defining an explicit list of "terrorist organization"s may or may not seek to redefine the term terrorist, but it is not tantamount to willful restatement of established historical fact (a la "always been at war").

No one would seriously would assert that the term-of-art definition of terrorist == the dictionary denotation of terrorist. That is the meaningful line in the sand between mere rhetorical ploy and outright democratic totalitarianism.

I was referring to the fact that the word terrorist seems to have expanded to mean "whoever I have decided to fight currently" whenever the government uses it

While slippery slope might technically be a logical fallacy, it seems to be the MO of every government everywhere.

I wonder how they are trained to differentiate between someone who is hiding something and someone who is uncomfortable because they have been in a 10 hours flight, barely slept, have not been speaking english for months and are anxious to be suspected for nothing.

Ostensibly facial ticks or whatever.

Actually country of origin and maybe skin color / attire.

That's the function of pseudo-science bullshit -- you can ignore civil liberties and pretend you're not.

> And why would you be uncomfortable answering a question about whether your a terrorist or not?

You must have never been wrongly accused of anything.

Well I was asked a similar question but not in the US, and I can tell you that it can catch you off guard given the right circumstances, even if you aren't guilty. Are these guys trained enough to tell the difference?

The way I see it, it's not going to make the guilty people stumble, but it will lead to false positives. In the long run, I think asking such a question does more harm than good.

Would there ever be a legitimate reason for answering yes to those questions?

The closest thing that I can think of is if you were a member of a political party that had associations with a terrorist group (or that had been labelled as terrorists). So for example Sinn Fein in Ireland where they had links to the IRA.

Some people, very few but not zero, really are that dumb.

But I believe the main reason is so that when they catch somebody and prosecute them for terrorism, they can add "making false statements" to the charges and get even more prison time.

This is one of the reasons why I'm really liking snapchat. Every message goes poof after reading and the network is very private.

Unless of course snapchat is storing every message. In which case they'd have gigs of my silly selfies.

Considering recent events, they are probably looking for evidence that you are reposting ISIS propaganda or whatever the boogeyman of the day is.

I find it really problematic: when you fill the US borders paperwork, you are supposed to give objective admin/personal details while on social media you are supposed to speak up your mind. Where do you place the limit between somebody that publicly criticizes the US foreign policy and somebody that can be a threat? How are they going to handle people who posted something like "The US knew about the 9/11 attacks"?

There is already precedent for criminalizing dissent -- Turkey, for example, considers online criticism of Turkey as equivalent to damaging national security by spreading propaganda with the intent to provoke attacks towards the Turkish government.

It would be fair to assume the US would be open to such means to improve security.

No, it wouldn't. The US has a long, deep tradition of not criminalizing dissenting views. Exceptions like the Alien & Sedition acts or the "Red Scare" are remarkable because they're so counter to that tradition.

Subtle manipulation is worse than overt criminalization.

> There is already precedent for criminalizing dissent -- Turkey, for example,

No need to reach so far. New York just made it illegal to advocate boycotting Israel[0].

[0] http://www.salon.com/2016/06/05/ny_gov_cuomo_signing_unconst...

From the article you cited, it appears that the law in question prohibits investment by the State of New York, not by individuals:

> WHEREAS, the State of New York will not permit its own investment activity to further the BDS campaign in any way, shape or form, whether directly or indirectly;

Is there more to it than what the article mentions?

In reality they likely already know this information about you, at least some level of a government agency does, and simply want a way to confront people about it. However when you cross the border I don't think most people are looking for a conversation on whatever beliefs they currently hold or may have held in the past.

I used to live in the US. Now I live in a country ruled by a military dictatorship. This year they started with an immigration form that asks for social media accounts, currently optional same as the US. When I left the US I never thought I would be watching the US steadily implement many of the steps of a military dictatorship. The thing is, the US gov is so much more powerful and skilled at surveillance and dirty work than the tin pot dictators I live under, which has led to the weird realization that living under a military dictatorship can actually be better than US-style "democracy".

Yeah but this was the most transparent administration in history. Hope and Change indeed!

For the people who claim they'll never take action on trivial stupid tweets:


> The 26-year-old bar manager wrote a message to a friend on the micro-blogging service, saying: "Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America."

> Mr Bryan told the newspaper that he was questioned for five hours about his Twitter messages.

"All" that happened to him was that he wasn't allowed in.

so crazy.

more so when "destroy" can have all kinds of completely innocent meanings.

it's bad judgment, but not something for which a five hour delay plus rejection seems appropriate. how much did we pay for that interrogation, in border security salary?

And if we were at risk, who'd have slipped through while the agents played tough-guy?

I've transited through the USA a few times. Might be coincidence, but every time I complained on Twitter beforehand about the security theatre, I was "randomly selected" for special treatment.

I suspect it's best not to tell them you have a social media account on 'Hacker' News.

Background check can be instant and automated. Terminal will just display entry denied message. Israel already does something similar.

In result it will drive normal discussion underground, and we will see more surprises such as Brexit referendum results.

Indeed Israel does it, but only for Arabic or Muslim tourists that present certain characteristics - political engagement for instance. So it does exist but it's really not mainstream

> Israel does it, but only for Arabic or Muslim tourists

Arabic is a language and speaking it is absolutely no guarantee that you are a muslim. Lots of non-muslims speak Arabic both inside and outside Israel, including a significant number of Israeli Jews who routinely engage in good mannered and friendly commerce and friendship with fellow Israeli citizens who are Muslim or Druze or Bedouin. Being bi-lingual Arabic & Hebrew is quite common in Israel. I visited a school in Tel Aviv where Muslim and Jewish children were taught together in Arabic and Hebrew; they were all fluently bi-lingual and completely integrated. They are part of a long term plan for the future Israel by removing barriers and segregation and building an integrated country together.

Having visited Israel multiple times, I know for a fact that speaking Arabic does not get you refused entry nor does it single you out for prejudiced treatment.

However, a track record of making anti-Israel statements - not the language you speak nor your religion - will get you questioned and may lead to refused entry. Most people refused entry this way are not Muslim, they are white westerners from left-leaning Christian or secular groups who are active in BDS. That's exactly the same as a track record of making anti-America statements will get you questioned at US borders and quite probably refused entry (see other comments in this thread for examples of that). Israel are doing nothing different from what America or Canada or the UK or Turkey or Saudi Arabia or any other country does.

I see what you did there. You're suggesting a moral high ground by insinuating you are against prejudice but are really being prejudiced against Israel for doing something that every country does. I just don't know if its through ignorance or if it's an intentional slur.

I said Arabic OR Muslim because they are different. Maybe it would be useful for you to start reading properly what people write. I said Arabic people and not people speaking Arabic because that is completely different. Most of my friends in Tel-Aviv speak arabic or understand it because Arabs represent a significant proportion of Israel's population/residents. I said "only for Arabic OR Muslim tourists" because they are treated differently at the borders. Just go to Ben Gurion airport or the Wall and you will see that Israeli soldiers are asked to pay special attention to Arabic and Muslims. That has nothing to do with racism or anything like that: they just know that there has never been a terrorist attack conducted by a white Christian guy. What I said is based only on facts [1] and what my friends in the army told me. Because, yes, I lived in Tel-Aviv for 2 years so: yes I know a bit about Israel / no, I'm not really the guy who is going to discriminate Israel. Next time keep your mouth shut. Really.

Thought policing only for people of arab ethnicity? How generous of them.

Do they not see the irony, in a nation of people that used to got the short end of discrimination and thought policing, now doing it themselves?

Whats is the claim again? An abused child grow up to become an abuser?

It's easy to make this claim from afar, without personal responsibility or regards to the real dangers present. As the recent attacks prove.

And terror attacks would go down if the government always knew exactly what everyone is thinking.

But that still doesn't justify that kind of surveillance. And if one claims that a piece of land belongs to them and refuses to let it go independent, but also refuses to recognize the people living there as citizen, then one has to expect an uprising.

Terror attacks are a barbaric way for the palestinians to protest, but protest itself is justified.

Ah yes, the brand new account shows up to defend the Israeli policy of apartheid and overt ethnocentrism. In before criticising Israel is antisemitic.

Ok how's this? Every (almost every?) mass-casualty attack inside Israel borders in the last say, almost 70 years, have come from ethnically/religiously similar people. These attacks happen at an alarming rate. You would like them to, for the sake of making you feel warm and fuzzier on the inside, not profile the people most likely to carry out such attacks in the future? That would be ridiculous.

Edit: before I get downvoted into oblivion, and I'm sure I might, I'd like to add that reality is almost always uglier than anyone - especially me - would like it to be.

You and I both know they're doing a lot more than just "profiling".

At entry, Israeli border police check the online presence of a few people. This includes people, both Muslims and non-Muslims, identified as possibly being anti-Israel activists.

The social media check cannot be automated.

Border police at other countries also check online to follow up on the stories of a people who they stop as potentially not admissible.

>The social media check cannot be automated.

But it will be.

Be interesting to see Facebook enforce (or modify to allow enforcement) their terms of service over this.


> 3.15 Don't use data obtained from Facebook to make decisions about eligibility, including whether to approve or reject an application or how much interest to charge on a loan.

(EDIT: I know this is the Platform Policy, and not the general TOS.)

That's just the ToS for normal developers. US Govt can get a special developer policy.

"Of course my good sir, it's @uspatriot2015."

Now, let's all agree to not tell them we can have more than one account!

Or to be slightly more specific, I'll give them the facebook account where I dutifully like all the boring funny dog videos and ugly baby photos of relatives, and I'll keep my seditious rabble rousing anti-establishment twitter ac to myself.

"US P At Riot? Please come with us to this little room and explain for several hours what exactly you mean by US P At Riot."

"Why not @uspatriot2016? What caused your views to change this year? Please come with me."

And how am I going to convince them that I do not use twitter? (I do not use twitter)

Yeah, definitely only give them the account you've groomed to have the highest Sesame credit score.

what an orwellian fucking nightmare.

no better reason to delete your facebook account than this right here, folks.

[ ] Have you deleted an online social account in the past 365 days.

Deleting your Facebook account isn't a sufficient answer. What about when they ask for your Hacker News account?

and LinkedIn, Google (G+, Gmail, Analytics), HackerNews, Steam...

> Steam

"It says here you've been affiliated with a "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" where you were a terrorist.."

This just shows the direction in which they aim.

It doesn't directly concern me (after Snowden's revelations and the fact that even more surveillance is being pushed down our throats, I have decided not to return to the US anymore), but we know that all the big (US) web/tech companies are part of Prism, which means the Customs will have some sort of access to our social media activity anyway (if not now already, then soon).

At first I thought: giving this info might ease me from being treated as a semi-terrorist because I regularily visit Iran. Then I thought some more... my LinkedIn-Profile mentions I own a US company. Which is false, that mentioning there is only a means to get access to some groups and test waters as "if I was a local" because we consider moving there. I guess coming as a tourists and then DHS reads I have a company might lead to serious questions.Everything you do nowadays is a mean to surveil you.

Plenty of people own businesses and travel as tourists. The real issue would be travel to Iran, as Iran has been built up through propaganda to be a very different place than it actually is in the minds of many Americans.

If I understand correctly the "Proposed Changes" section, the proposed change will only affect Visa Waiver travellers (ESTA/I-94W forms). If you regularly visit Iran, it's likely that you're already excluded from the Visa Waiver Program due to the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015.

I like how they want to reduce mass shootings by limiting access based on background checks ...

Time to set up some sanitized accounts for plausible deniability?

Likely unnecessary.

1. Unless you are taking extraordinary measures to sever all connections between yourself and your online presence, odds are there are enough links for any Government to tie a person to an account. Given how much is collected at the border already along with the big-data collected passively by the various TLA Government Orgs, they simply need to pop in your Passport ID or Drivers License or State ID and they'll have the relevant data; this collection seems more or less like a convenience to the government if anything. Same goes for foreigners, given the reaches of the various NSA programs; just pop in any number from some database and you'll likely get a match.

2. You have no obligation to use social media, and I don't think the government is going to mandate its use (I mean, I wouldn't put it past certain politicians, but yeah). Setting up a sanitized account honestly would draw more suspicion than anything, especially if it was on the heels of an announcement or proclamation that they're suddenly requiring or requesting such information. Regular social media users have fairly regular patterns, and barring some real dedication to the sanitized account, it'd be pretty easy for TLAs to figure out if it's a front or not. Not that it would immediately warrant investigation, it's just it feels like theatre more than a practical protection.

If I wanted to get real conspiracy theorist on this, this motion is just a front that allows the government to segue into actually including this stuff as part of standard background checks, which they likely are already doing with questionable legality. That is, the inclusion of the field is just formalizing what they're already doing, so that the articles that inevitably would arise have less "oomph" behind their reaction. It's not as shocking to the public if the government is surveilling social media when the government outright asks for your info. There's no real smoking gun, just a bunch of guys in suits going "yeah, we asked you for it."

This is a symptom of the constant disrespect for privacy within the US government, not some new issue that's arisen. The same thinking that leads to the NSA led to this, and it's honestly not too unusual that they are asking for it. If anything, my initial reaction was less "How dare they!" and more "was wondering when you'd get to this point."

Last year i set up a facebook account with a fake name and then never accessed it ever. After a few weeks i started getting emails from fb asking if i knew xxxxxxx, the only way they could have known that i knew these people is by tracking my ip and comparing it with others, looking at those ips and working out who was common amongst their connections. Two people logging from the same ip, creates a bridge between two social graphs, even if they never explicitly declareds that, having, a corporate email address domain in common with sombody else creates a weak link between two branches of the overall graph. Each touch point creates associations which can be mined for knowledge about who you know and interact with. The new face tagging code is scary and can also create thise indirect associations, if yoh appear in multiple peoples photos, and eventualy one of them says thats "xxxxxxx", then you are deanomised for ever. FB is the worlds most amazingly efficient survelence machine, and we feed it willingly.

After spending 34 years without any photographs of myself landing on social media, my grandmother put up a photo of me on Facebook. I felt bad scolding her, because she really doesn't know any better. ...which is odd, because she was alive for the years when certain governments were identifying their homosexual and ethnic citizens and sending them off to gas chambers and/or internment camps.

I worry that Facebook and its ilk will be a lot more effective than IBM's punchcard system for locating, identifying, and classifying their society's undesirables.

> I worry that Facebook and its ilk will be a lot more effective than IBM's punchcard system for locating, identifying, and classifying their society's undesirables.

Yes, consider what's happening in Turkey [1]. A newly minted dictatorial regime could even mine your old posts for evidence against you. The only thing stopping this kind of thing in North America is the checks and balances that are slowly being undermined in the name of security.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/05/turkish-police...

> which is odd, because she was alive for the years when certain governments were identifying their homosexual and ethnic citizens and sending them off to gas chambers and/or internment camps

excess trust in authority figures also runs deep in the greatest generation

I have seen similar things happen, with anonymous Joe accounts being linked to a network of people. It is very good at it.

> You have no obligation to use social media

Here's what worries me: let's say they set up some kind of scoring system. If you don't use social media, there's no info on you there so your score is 0. If you have an account with anti-government propaganda, that lowers your score obviously.

Now at some point, anyone with a score less than strictly positive will be subject to extra background screening / denied entry. You still have no obligation to use a social media account in a way that nets you a positive score, but they have no obligation to let you in either.

Someone, somewhere might have looked at China's "citizen score" system and thought it was a good idea. You have no obligation to support the Party on social media but it can be taken into account in job applications.

> your score is 0

    Computer Court 9: "Guilty. Take her down."
    Convicted Blank:  "I know my rights. I won't be judged by a machine!"
    Dragul:           "You don't have any rights. You're a Blank."
    Convicted Blank:  "Blank is beautiful!
                       Blank is beautiful!
                       Blank is beautiful!"
Max Headroom, Episode ABC.1.6 "Blanks"

That's credit rating in a nutshell. Don't have debt means bad credit rating.

I'd be curious to know how they correlate a facebook / twitter identity to a passport number. The number of people with the same name is huge. You could use circles of friends to identify family numbers which you can use if you have access to the Vital Records, but in many (developed) countries, Vital Records are not even digitized.

Simple, the TLAs (Three Letter Acronym organisations) have Stingrays set up (IMSI-catcher) and vehicle number plate readers.

You're much more easily identifiable your mobile phone number, vehicle registration number, name, and social media account(s) added together.

Because that's probably what is already happening.

> probably

We've known about COTRAVELER[1] for several years.

The basic idea of correlating arbitrary data (with timestamps) to estimate associations can easily be extended to other types of data. This is why almost any kind of data can potentially be "personally identifying". On it's own a random piece of analytics or "anonymized" data doesn't reveal much, but when you correlate many of those data points together you get a very nice fingerprint.

And that's just a a few SQL JOINs. I'm sure a lot more is possible with modern analysis techniques.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/world/how-the-nsa...

No, time for US citizens to stand tall and be counted as being opposed to this kind of nonsense.

Can someone give me a list of which questions I might get at the border that are actually optional?

The problem arises if someone says they have no social media account but really do.

If someone has a distinct online presence - i.e. a journalist - they will be targeted.

If someone has twitter, facebook, etc. installed on their phone, they will be discovered for having lied.

Since gmail is tied to G+, if someone has gmail - they must have a social media account. Did that person use gmail as part of the visa application process - for example to get notification of the visa status?

Can the Border Patrol, http://www.skipease.com/search/pipl/ to tie that person to their social media accounts?

This account comes to mind: https://twitter.com/TSAgov

I think there are other, better ways to protect the nation than what the U.S. Customs is proposing here. This is getting kind of ridiculous.

Or maybe there aren't. Maybe we just have to learn with a certain amount of risk and don't be giant fucking pussies. Since when did we collectively become scared 40-something housewives? I thought this was "home of brave", not "home of those afraid to leave the house because there's rapists and terrorists hiding around the corner"?

If you're a government official, you pretty much have to, at this point, turn this country into a giant Orwellian nightmare, or be crucified by the media for not "doing enough to protect our children" the next time a few people inevitably lose their lives.

Our oh-so-precious children who are already growing up in a weird world where they're not allowed to ride their bikes around the damn neighborhood since mommy is convinced everyone is a rapist.

And then we sit around and wonder why little Jimmy grows up to be an asocial psychopath with rage built up that nobody can explain.

So yeah, things aren't going to get any better when we, and our officials, are basically cowards and would rather destroy everything that makes life worth living in order to "protect" us.

"The public has 60 days to comment on the new proposal before it will be formally considered. Comments can be mailed to Customs and Border Protection at its Washington office."

The article seems to suggest that the proposal can be challenged but there is really nothing that the public can do, right?

If you consider Facebook, LinkedIn, Github, HN, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, Google Plus (one profile for each Google-based e-mail I have), Live (one for each outlook.com e-mail I have) social networks, the field will have to be fairly large.

Considering the treasure trove of information available by data-mining each of those accounts, I'm sure they'll be happy to make room on the form for a few more of those fields.

Is having an HN or Reddit account considered social media?

No, those are anti-social.

Which also counts.

They already check your phone and messages.

They will soon enforce you to give them your login password as well so they can freely login and check your data.

Canada does this when I enter with a laptop.

Just post to their accounts stuff like "hey, so you're going to set them up the bomb like you mentioned last night?" Etc...

And so the US government and US business does not want thousands of dollars for me. No problem. Thanks but no thanks. I will take my business elsewhere.

> "Are you a terrorist or affiliate with a terrorist organization?"

Sir, yes, sir! I was part of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, sir!

I don't think one needs to support the invasion of Iraq to know how deeply uncool a comment like this is on HN. No more political flamebait, please.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11984942 and marked it off-topic.

Dang, why does your mod account repeatedly promote certain certain political ideologies and censor polite and reasonable comments from viewpoints contrary to those. In particular, please state for the record whether the actions of your mod account represent the official viewpoints and policies of the ycombinator board members. Also please identify clearly and specifically which ycombinator staff controls the dang censorship account and whether they are paid staff. Please consider this an official inquiry. Thank you very much in advance for your reasoned and official response.

Please see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11989433.

We try to do our job professionally and not moderate HN in favor of any specific politics. I can't claim we've overcome bias—most bias is unconscious, so that would be silly—but we work hard to mitigate it, and have probably gotten better with practice.

Pretty sure your factual claims here are way off base, so it's hard to take this comment as anything other than an expression of how strongly you hold your views. That tends to go along with expressing oneself uncivilly. That's natural, I've done it, I still do it; but it's something we're all asked to contain here.

This information is all public, and was published at the time dang became a full time moderator as opposed to merely a highly valued user. Please feel free to go and read the already existing official information that answers your questions.

Edgy. But really, your comment just cheapens the discussion.

I don't think so, I think it raises an interesting point about the flexibility of the definition of the word "terrorist"

I disagree with you that his comment cheapens the discussion. I do think that your comment cheapens it. His point that the US military, with its illegitimate wars, torture practices, and widespread murder of civilians, is reasonably considered to be a terrorist organization is a reasonable and good comment which advances the discussion intelligently and productively. The fact is that US military are in fact terrorists, as is the citizenry that supports this terrorist regime with tax money. So the honest and true response for US citizens at least would be to answer yes to that question.

> The fact is that US military are in fact terrorists, as is the citizenry that supports this terrorist regime with tax money.

Please don't post shrill ideological denunciations to HN. It's not what this site is for, there's no substantive argument that requires it, and one needn't be a militarist to know that.

Oh come on. That was the substantive argument, expanding on what was said before in good faith and providing a reason why it matters to the discussion. Several other users here seem to think it has at least something to contribute, and it has already provoked a somewhat more nuanced discussion below. Calling it a "shrill ideological denunciation" is, itself, a shrill ideological denunciation. ("Shrill" in particular is a very unbecoming word for a supposedly apolitical moderator whose main enemy is supposed to be incivility.)

I am trying to be charitable in my interpretation here, but twice now you have zeroed in specifically on the charge that US military activities constitute 'terrorism'. It really looks like your objection is to that postulate, and not to its relevance to the discussion or the politeness with which it's advanced. If that's really the case, then you have taken an unequivocally political position which you are willing to enforce through moderation.

I don't want to believe this is the case, as it would mean the end of my participation on HN. So I would like to know what moderating principle is being used here. So far all I have are the following pejorative terms: "deeply uncool", "political flamebait", "shrill ideological denunciations", and "ideological rants".

That's not an accurate description of a comment that didn't only call the U.S. military terrorists, but U.S. citizens terrorists for paying taxes. By that logic Chomsky himself is a terrorist. That's absurd, and it's hardly politicized moderation to call it a bad comment for this site. (Actually I'm surprised that you'd defend this low-quality subthread to begin with, which started with a dose of political snark and descended from there. It ought to be obvious that that doesn't belong here, regardless of one's politics.)

The moderating principle is that comments should be civil and substantive. Heated rhetoric is neither, so it lowers the signal/noise ratio at both ends.

I'd be delighted to use more neutral, more precise, less pejorative language than I currently do to express what's wrong about that sort of comment. But I'm at the limit of what I know how to say, especially ex tempore. If you can think of a better phrase than shrill, etc., I'd like to know what it is—of course it would require suspending your politics to think of a good one, which isn't always easy to do.

dang/mod account, you host many political threads and then frequently censor viewpoints contrary to yours. Deleting off topic comments, spam and abuse is appropriate. Attacking and censoring all who are reasonably critical of the american military's torture and surveillance state, its illegitimate wars, and its harm to civilians, in the context of related discussion, is not appropriate.

To maintain the credibility of HN and ycombinator, I suggest you review your censorship and control issues associated with your moderators. Thank you.

I am very critical of America's torture, surveillance apparatus, wars and all the things you list. However, it cheapens the discussion you and I have against it. Terrorism is fundamentally very different from an invading and occupying force. The nature of the soldiers, their funding, purpose, propaganda used to send them off, as well as their very mission and goals all differ to such an extent. Calling this terrorism cheapens the word (terrorism), and makes it easy to ignore your somewhat valid points. I think there is a place for discussing the merits, drawbacks, and issues associated with America's unreasonable middle east adventures, but this is not it. It is also unreasonable to cry 'Censorship!' Whenever one strays and veers far off the OP topic. Please, do put up a thread, a blog, a news article and we can discuss, debate, and learn together about which is which, and why. But not here, and not in a way that cheapens the wonderful site that this is. Let us do all we can to not become reddit.

You've sidestepped the issue with your comment in a way that unfortunately just confirms it. But let me try to answer these concerns.

As I said, there's no defense of militarism in asking people not to post ideological rants here. If that weren't true, it would mean there is no civil way to state your view. That would be a rather strong refutation of said view.

Re my personal opinions: you're assuming that you know what they are and then getting angry at your assumption. That's a self-referential activity.

I know how tempting it is to conclude, when we moderate X on HN, that our politics must be anti-X. But even perfectly apolitical moderation, if it were possible, would generate the same reactions—more of them, actually, because there would be more Xs. So that feeling is not to be trusted. It's too easily explained by the simpler theory that none of us likes it when our own statements, or ones we agree with, get criticized.

Classifying the US military forces like that just cheapens the word "terrorist". I'm not arguing that everything the US did in Iraq was morally right or justifiable, but it's generally implied that terrorists are almost always non-state actors. If you use that definition almost every nation in the world is full of terrorists. China, North Korea, and large swaths of the Middle East enforce their power using fear, so they're all terrorists. You can chuck in Japan, Italy and Germany for their involvement in WWII and inhumane treatment of PoWs.

In fact, I think Switzerland may be the only country in the world not considered to be terroristic, purely because of their lack of involvement in any major modern wars.

Torture and attacks on civilian populations are both terrorist actions.

If you define terrorism as necessarily non-state, then you have to discard the state sponsored terrorism of Libya, ISIS (which is in fact now a state), Afghanistan, Nazi Germany, etc. I do not believe that discarding state sponsored terrorism as "not terrorist" by defining terrorism as not possible by states to be a useful definition, do you?

> ISIS (which is in fact now a state)

No. Absolutely no state in the world recognizes ISIS as a state. State is a circular definition by nature btw.

The US does not use terror as a weapon in the same way terrorists do. The US Military does not purposely target the innocent.

I think that's a good point, but to make a counterpoint, there are many documented cases of their soldiers independently doing just that.

Almost by definition, a terrorist is on the other side of the conflict. Therefore, relative to the US, they are not terrorists.

Good thing the woke guy showed up to remind us that military veterans are terrorists

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