Trump administration sued over new social media disclosure rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two documentary film groups on Thursday filed a lawsuit challenging Trump administration rules adopted this year that require nearly all visitors to the United States to disclose social media user information from the last five years.

The U.S.-based groups, who are represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, argued in the suit that the surveillance chills visa applicants from engaging in constitutionally protected speech and association, deters them from traveling to the United States, and deprives U.S. audiences opportunities to engage with filmmakers from around the world.

The rules adopted in late May require disclosure of all social media handles used over the prior five years by U.S. visa applicants, including ones under pseudonyms, on 20 platforms. Twitter Inc said it is “strongly opposed to the U.S. Department of State’s social media registration requirements” and supports “the right of people to speak anonymously without fear of reprisals or retribution.”

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, names Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Homeland Security acting secretary Chad Wolf. The State Department declined to comment, while DHS did not immediately comment.

The State Department has said it receives more than 14 million applicants annually. The only travelers exempted are diplomatic and official travelers. It argued in June that the rules “will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.”

The Doc Society and the International Documentary Association, the groups filing suit, say they regularly collaborate with non-U.S. filmmakers and warn visitors must “consider the risk that a U.S. official will misinterpret their speech on social media, impute others’ speech to them, or subject them to additional scrutiny or delayed processing because of the views they or their contacts have expressed.”

The State Department has said the move was prompted by President Donald Trump’s March 2017 order requiring heightened vetting of visa applications. It previously collected contact information, travel history, family information, and prior addresses from all visa applicants.

Applicants must disclose accounts on Facebook Inc and its Instagram site, Flickr, Alphabet Inc’s Google+ and YouTube, LinkedIn, Myspace, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine as well as Chinese sites Douban, QQ, Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, and Youku; the Russian social network VK; the Belgian site Twoo; and the Latvian site The groups said the information will be retained indefinitely.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao