The upside to GDPR

The new laws introduced by the EU in May last year have been met with almost universal disdain but looking at developments in America we may come to love them.

Well, ‘love’ might be too strong a word but certainly we may come to appreciate them. The stories are legion of travellers entering America and spending hours in a holding room because of some offhand comment made to their notoriously humourless immigration officers. But it seems that now a traveller doesn’t even need to make a comment; an old Tweet, an email, a post on Facebook or Instagram will do the job.

Since 2016 visitors have been asked to surrender all their social media accounts and usernames and email addresses so officials can screen for criminal tendencies or terrorist sympathies. In December the system was developed further with the opening of the National Vetting Centre dedicated to interrogating visa waiver applications [about 23 million travellers to the USA every year apply for a visa waiver]. A further development is that previously surrendering details of social media accounts was voluntary, now it is obligatory for certain types of visa applicants which appear to be aimed at applicants from Muslim countries.

Once collected it is unclear what the authorities do with the data, who it is shared with or how long it will be retained. These are all things that are covered by GDPR which mandates that all organisations including public bodies that collect personal data have to produce freely available documentation spelling out precisely the answer to those questions. Of course, America hasn’t adopted GDPR and doesn’t have its own equivalent.

For a country that is meant to be the leader of the free world it is a worrying development. It could become even more worrying if other countries like Russia or China decide to retaliate.

It seems that the much maligned GDPR isn’t so bad after all.