- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Trump administration was sued in federal court Thursday over a new rule requiring nearly all visa applicants to list the handles they use on social media services.

Attorneys representing two documentary film organizations filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in D.C. against the heads of the Departments of State and Homeland Security.

Brought on behalf of Doc Society and the International Documentary Association, the suit seeks to stop the State Department and DHS from demanding social media information from visa applicants and retaining that data, respectively, effectively aiming to overturn a newly enacted immigration policy put in place under President Trump.

The State Department began asking nearly all visa applicants for their social media handles starting in May by requiring they list any names used on some 20 different platforms during the preceding five years. That data is then stored in systems maintained by both the State Department and DHS, raising constitutional concerns that sparked the suit.

“The registration requirement is the linchpin of a far-reaching and unconstitutional surveillance regime that permits the government to monitor the online activities of millions of visa applicants, and to continue monitoring them even after they’ve entered the United States,” said Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, a nonprofit organization leading the lawsuit along with the Brennan Center for Justice and the Simpson Thacher & Bartlett law firm.

“The government simply has no legitimate interest in collecting this kind of sensitive information on this immense scale, and the First Amendment doesn’t permit it to do so,” Mr. Jaffer said in a statement.

Filed against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the acting head of DHS, Chad F. Wolf, the 35-page complaint seeks declaratory and injunction relief in the form of a court ruling that both the registration requirement and related retention and dissemination policies are unlawful and should be stopped.

“The Department does not comment on pending litigation,” a State Department spokesperson told The Washington Times.

DHS did not immediately comment.

The State Department previously said that the social media registration requirement would apply to an estimated more than 14 million visa applicants each year. It does not apply to diplomatic and official travelers, the lawsuit noted.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that the new rules have caused their client’s non-American partners to self-censor and in some cases to stop using social media in order to avoid any future immigration problems.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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