Two organizations of documentary filmmakers are suing the US State Department and DHS for violating their First Amendment rights and placing them in fear for their lives, in order to stop the government’s requirement that all visa applicants provide all their social media identifiers, including pseudonymous ones, during the past five years. This requirement applies even to those foreign nationals who have lived in the US for many years and who travel abroad to obtain a visa and return to the US. The US government is also retaining this private information, and sharing it with other government agencies, possibly for years to come, so it is an ongoing violation of rights.
The Doc Society is a non-profit “committed to enabling great documentary films and connecting them to audiences globally” See, https://docsociety.org/. The International Documentary Association supports nonfiction filmmaking and filmmakers, and provides educational seminars, promotes collaboration and sharing of ideas among the filmmaking community, as well as tours for American films. See, https://www.documentary.org/programs.
They allege that the requirement of providing all social media information violates their First Amendment expressive and associational rights. It chills protected speech by forcing them to provide access to the government of “their personal, creative and political activities online”, and putting their lives in danger, as well as their family’s lives. Complaint, p. 2. See, https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/2019-12/Complaint%20Doc%20Society%20v%20Pompeo.pdf
Many of their member filmmakers live in authoritarian countries, and their work draws attention to human rights abuses as well as political and social issues, and is often critical of their own and other governments. They also use their protected speech to connect with other filmmakers, artists and advocates. “In recent months, authoritarian and other rights-abusing regimes, including some U.S. allies, have used information gleaned from social media to identify, locate and detain human rights advocates, journalists and political dissidents-and even, in some instances, to have them killed” Complt, p. 4.
U.S. officials may disclose their social media identifiers to foreign governments, or fail to protect their social media from being inadvertently disclosed to third parties. Moreover, once the US government has all their social media identifiers, including their pseudonymous one, they may be subject to continuing, ongoing surveillance by the US government of their political and artistic activities.
This also harms American-born filmmakers, because it makes it much more difficult for them to discover and spotlight the talent and work of filmmakers abroad and to learn about issues foreign filmmakers face. It deprives American-born filmmakers of being able to hear the speech that foreign filmmakers would have otherwise shared on social media. It also means that they will no longer be able to attract many filmmakers and others from abroad to come to the US and participate in their events, screenings and conventions, causing an ongoing large loss of revenue.
In addition to violating the First Amendment of the US Constitution, the complaint also alleges that the requirement to provide social media information violates the APA (Administrative Procedure Act), and is arbitrary and capricious.
The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Doc Society and International Documentary Association v. Michael Pompeo, Sec of State and Chad Wolf, Acting Sec of DHS, Docket No., 1:19-cv-03632, on December 5, 2019 and is currently pending.