EFF joined a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opposing a proposal to deploy stronger vetting procedures against Chinese students intending to study in the United States because the procedures would threaten the free speech interests of both Chinese students and their American associates.
Reuters reported that the Trump administration is considering “checks of student phone records and scouring of personal accounts on Chinese and U.S. social media platforms for anything that might raise concerns about students’ intentions in the United States, including affiliations with government organizations.”
In opposing the vetting proposal, we argued that “[p]rospective students may self-censor whom they talk to or what they say on social media out of fear that political discussion about China or the United States will harm their academic prospects—a result sharply at odds with our national commitment to academic freedom and free expression,” and that “monitoring the phone and social media activity of Chinese students also threatens the free speech rights of their American associates—whether family members, friends, or fellow students.”
The State Department’s Chinese student vetting proposal follows U.S. Custom and Border Protection’s new program to ask visa applicants from China for their social media handles, which we similarly opposed. These programs focusing on Chinese visitors are part of a concerning broader strategy by the Trump administration to engage in social media surveillance of both visitors and immigrants to the United States.
We joined the letter to Secretary Pompeo along with Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), PEN America, National Coalition Against Censorship, and Defending Rights & Dissent.