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U.S. idea to collect travellers' passwords alarms privacy experts

Michael Kan | Feb. 10, 2017
The Department of Homeland Security is considering asking foreign travelers to give their social-media passwords.

From a security standpoint, demanding visa applicants hand over passwords and then storing them might be a huge problem in itself. The government hardly has a stellar record in keeping its own databases safe from hackers, said Christopher Dore, a partner at privacy law firm Edelson PC.

“The threat of a data breach to all that password information would be a huge danger to all those individuals,” he said. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Others think the DHS's proposal is pointless and note that U.S. intelligence agencies, such as the National Security Agency, are already mining the internet for hints about terrorist activity.

“It’s pretty obvious that if you’re a terrorist you can create a dummy social media profile,” said Timothy Edgar, academic director of Brown University's Executive Master in Cybersecurity program.

“Anyone who has an ounce of sense, and is plotting to do something bad, is going to get around this policy very easily,” he said.

Edgar said demanding passwords from visa applicants will probably dissuade certain foreign travelers, especially college students, from coming to the U.S.

The impact could spread, too. Other countries might try to follow the U.S. example and demand travelers at their borders also give up their passwords

“We are giving another excuse to the worst authoritarian governments to engage in widespread surveillance of social media accounts,” he said. “When a major country adopts a practice, that tends to validate it.”

 

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