It is not just ‘the man’ who committed a heinous crime. But John Doe* the pharmacist, the father of two children, the husband of a wife and the son of someone.

For years, it has been a long-standing controversy and debate when it comes to professional organisations requesting individuals’ social media information. With the extremist on the left, the centre line argument is that our personal lives should be completely disconnected from our professional lives; while for the extremist on the right, their stance is that we represent our organisations at all times. The border line of the debate boils down to the right to privacy. But with the newly approved requirement for US visa applications, what is the verdict, infringement or necessary security measure?

According to a number of online sources such as CBS news and The Gleaner, just to name a few, as of May 31, it is mandatory for everyone, except where special cases apply, to disclose all their social media usernames, previous email addresses and phone numbers when applying for a US visa. The rationale behind the initiative is that it is a necessary security mechanism which will aid in the screening process of those going to the United States.

Through our social-media activities, the US department of state will be able to ascertain whether we or connected family members/friends have affiliations with terrorist organisations. In other words, they want to protect their citizens by controlling who enters the country. Is that really a bad thing? Is the security of the people and country not one of the government’s mandates?

On the other, this security feature, if I am to understand it well, breaches the fourth amendment where it outlines the right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures; in essence, the right to privacy. Certainly, this would take into account our privacy on social-media platforms. The only accepted breach of the said amendment would be if one is suspected of criminal activities. Therefore, what exactly will the state department search for on our accounts?

As aforementioned, they will search our affiliations. However, should we therefore be of the understanding that our candid pictures, political and religious jokes, posts and opinions will not come into question? In fact, will writing this article bring me under scrutiny? So, where is the line drawn, and how far is too far?

If any of these questions our eligibility to enter the US, then certainly it is a breach of the first-amendment which gives right to freedom of speech and expression. But the problem here is how will we know if they breached the amendment because they rejected our applications owing to our social media contents? After all, we are never told the reason for our visa applications being denied.

However, if I am to play the devil’s advocate, then I would say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the new visa requirement. After all, all social-media platforms ask for access and have access to our personal information. And certainly, we create our profiles and agree to these terms and conditions without batting an eye. Therefore, does it really matter if the government wants the said information for security purposes?

DISAGREE WITH DECISION

Personally, I disagree with the decision, though already made. It is not a question of having something to hide, as many would believe, but it is the sense of security and autonomy to control our personal space. For example, while I do not have illegal or explicit content on my smartphone, I still would not feel comfortable to have a random person, or even my employer, read my messages and/or go through my phone, even if I am present when he or she is doing so. There is a sense of comfort which is felt within our personal space, and where this is breached and accepted, then what else will be taken or demanded of us?

Last, I will urge the Jamaican public, and whomever it may concern, to be mindful of the content which you have on social media. I am not saying that you are to give up your right to freedom of speech and expression, or even your sense of individuality, but think long term, where it applies.

And in the same breath, I will say that the world does not end at the United States. There are many fascinating countries, such as the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, France, Mexico, Spain, Serbia, Africa (continent), Germany, Australia, New Zealand, you name it. In fact, it is not hard to acquire a visa to enter some of these countries, and for some, no visa is required. For example, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Ecuador, Fiji, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, and the list goes on.

However, bear in mind that, while these countries do not require visas, you may need visas or a particular document for a transit country.

[*John Doe is not a real name. It was used for the sole purpose of the quote.]