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Border Control Doesn’t Need Your Twitter Handle

Getty Images/Ringer Illustration
Getty Images/Ringer Illustration

A crotchety old hag slouches on a barstool, slowly drinking an Icehouse and smoking a menthol cigarette, an array of bejeweled bangles clanging as she wearily sips her beverage. You approach. “You can’t smoke in here,” you tell her. The hag is me. I give you a rude look. “Would you like to hear a story about awful government counterterrorism strategy?” I say. You pull up a chair.

“Right now,” I tell you, “the Department of Homeland Security is seriously considering a proposal to change some of its travel forms to ask people to provide their social media handles in an effort to fight terrorism.”

“So the government is forcing me to reveal that my Twitter handle is @fartwithasideofjelly?” You look worried.

“Providing the information will be optional,” I inform you.

I read aloud from the Office of the Federal Register website, since I keep a small Samsung tablet in my extremely dirty purse at all times:

“It will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information,” the proposal from U.S. Customs and Border Protection reads. “Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

“Then what’s the point?” you say. I shrug, and it’s simultaneously the most elegant and disgusting shoulder movement you’ve ever seen in your life; a small baby spider crawls out from behind my ear. You fall off your chair.

There is no point, little one. No point but that I am the Ghost of Government Incompetence Present, here to spook youths into complaining about wasteful and meaningless proposals.

This is just a proposal, so it might not happen. The DHS is asking for comments until August 22, and I highly recommend leaving one (once you gather yourself after fainting), because it’s an incredibly stupid idea. The DHS already does investigate some visa and asylum applicants’ social media profiles, and it is building tools to better analyze social media.

Now, let’s set aside the fact that social media vetting may lead to sarcastic or satirical comments getting misinterpreted. There’s no doubt that a Twitter account that regularly tweets about killing people is a red flag that officials should at least look into when vetting somebody. But adding a question to an application form is a useless way to get that information.

Any terrorist baldly dumb enough to provide an ISIS-sympathizing Twitter handle to the DHS is probably not a threat to national security by dint of being an actual moron. This will aid in the investigation only of incredibly incompetent criminals and terrorists. It’s not far off from redoing the forms to include a question box for, “Are you a terrorist? Check yes or no.”

“That is dumb,” you agree, staring into my milky, aged eyes. And with that, I disappear in a puff of Axe Body Spray Anarchy Daily scented cologne.