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password security

Would you give your Facebook password to Uncle Sam?

password security

Would you give your Facebook password to Uncle Sam?

Social media has become an extension of who we are, and almost an online database of what gives us our personality, so it’s perhaps not surprising that many government and law enforcement groups want to use it to determine identity, make sure we are who we claim to be and work out our intentions.

With President Donald Trump increasing vigilance (or paranoia, depending on how you see it) over who is entering his country, a particular focus has been on air travel, with six countries appearing on Trump’s ‘naughty list’ of nations whose people are currently not allowed to travel to the US.

In February, the US Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly, suggested to Congress that people planning to enter the country should be prepared to give their social media passwords to officials, and that those who refuse should be turned away.

One significant flaw of Kelly’s suggestion is that in the Middle East, which is the area most targeted by the crackdown on US immigration, almost half the population does not have internet access, let alone a social media account. Ignoring this though, if you were asked to give somebody your password so that you could go on a holiday or business trip to the US, how happy would you be to do so?

According to a survey by flight comparison site Kayak, a slight majority of Brits would not comply with the policy. Just over half (51%) said they would refuse to give their password and face being denied entry to the country.

According to a Telegraph article, Kayak has noticed a “very negative impact” on demand for US flights caused by the election of Trump, and the UN has said that the travel ban has cost the US more than £150m in tourism revenue.

As is often the case with surveys, this particular one raises one or two curious questions; for example, why do 51% of Brits say they would not hand over their password, but only 37% say they would not travel to the US? Does this mean that 14%, even knowing that the US had introduced a Facebook password acquisition policy, would travel there anyway only to refuse and be turned away when they got there?

Perhaps more alarming, though, is that 63% believe it to be an invasion of privacy, but much lower numbers would actually refuse to comply with it. Does this suggest that significant numbers of Brits have become accepting of invasions of privacy, seeing them as an inevitable byproduct of freedom of movement?

John Murray

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