December 4, 2019

IDA Files Lawsuit against State Department & DHS over Social Media Visa Rules

Today, IDA and Doc Society, with support from the Knight First Amendment Institute and the Brennan Center for Justice, filed a lawsuit against the State Department on behalf of documentary filmmakers.

New rules issued earlier this year by the State Department as part of the US administration’s “extreme vetting” program require almost everyone applying for a U.S. visa to disclose all social media handles they’ve used in the past five years on some 20 platforms, including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, as well as China’s massively popular Weibo and Russia’s VK. They enable the U.S. government to vacuum up public posts, pictures and other personal details of roughly 15 million people each year, including artists, activists and dissidents worldwide.

Social media is indispensable to many foreign documentary filmmakers. It’s how they research stories, communicate with their subjects, and share their work with global audiences. The current administration’s surveillance of visa applicants’ social media activity violates the First Amendment because the requirement is not narrowly tailored to the government’s immigration enforcement and national security interests. It violates the Administrative Procedure Act as the collection is not “necessary” to establishing visa applicants’ identity or visa eligibility.

Social media screening has already deterred some of IDA members from applying for visas, preventing them from participating in recent U.S. film festivals and limiting their ability to tell their stories to U.S. audiences. In our increasingly global world, the meaningful exchange of ideas and perspectives should be celebrated, not stifled. Many foreign filmmakers pursue their work at immense risk to themselves and their families. They tackle the most pressing issues of the day, from government and corporate malfeasance, immigration, and the environment to matters of war and peace. Many use pseudonyms on social media to evade their repressive governments and other forces seeking to silence them.

The State Department’s new rules take away their online anonymity and make their jobs all the more perilous. We are asking the court to stop this dangerous and unconstitutional overreach by the current administration.

Please read the full Op-Ed in The Los Angeles Times and the full complaint here.


In the News

The Associated Press: Lawsuit challenges social media disclosure rule for visas
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The Washington Post: New lawsuit challenges Trump administration policy to collect foreigners’ social media accounts
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The Los Angeles Times: Documentary film groups sue U.S. over social-media requirement for visas
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The Guardian: US government edict puts international film-makers in danger, lawsuit claims
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CNN: Documentary film groups sue to stop US from collecting social media info from visa applicants
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NPR: Lawsuit Aims To End Rule Requiring Visa Applicants To Disclose Social Media Accounts
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The Intercept: FILMMAKERS SUE TO SHIELD VISITORS TO U.S. FROM SOCIAL MEDIA VETTING
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The Hill: Documentary groups challenge Trump administration's vetting of immigrants' social media
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Deadline: Documentary Filmmakers Challenge State Department, Homeland Security Visa Rules
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Reuters: Trump administration sued over new social media disclosure rules
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The Verge: Filmmakers sue State Department over social media surveillance rules
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The Wrap: 2 Documentary Groups Sue State Department Over Rule Requiring Social Media Registration for Visa Applicants
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The Washington Times: State Dept., DHS sued over requesting, retaining social media names of visa applicants
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Scoopsquare24: Doc Society and IDA Challenge State Department Rule of Social Media Registration for Visa Applicants
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Just Security: Social Media Vetting of Visa Applicants Violates the First Amendment
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PC Magazine: US's Social Media Screening of Visa Applicants Faces Lawsuit
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