The US has not ruled out “extreme vetting” procedures which would force British visitors to hand over social media passwords, mobile phone contacts and financial records.
The tough new measures could apply to visitors from 38 countries that are part of a US visa waiver scheme, including the UK, Australia and Japan, officials told the Wall Street Journal.
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, which is drawing up the plans, said that it was “too early to say” whether the “extreme vetting” measures would apply to British citizens.
He said: “No final decisions have been made.”
However, some applicants could be asked to give out their phone contacts and social media information so that the authorities can track their histories.
The measures would be part of president Donald Trump’s effort to make good on his central campaign promise to increase border security, a move that he argues is necessary as a safeguard against terrorism.
Two executive orders signed by the president, which would have barred entry to the US from certain North African and Middle Eastern countries, have been blocked by the courts.
However, changes could be made to entry procedures that would make it more difficult for visitors to be granted visas.
Travellers who need visas are typically asked to fill out detailed forms and present themselves for interviews with the authorities.
One possible change could be to subject more visa applicants to interviews and to ask more in-depth questions.
These could reportedly include asking applicants whether they believe in honour killings, whether they believe in “the sanctity of life” — a phrase frequently used by conservative American Christians in the abortion debate — and who the applicant considers a legitimate military target, The Times reports today.
The plan would appear to be an effort to implement Trump’s suggestion that there should be an “ideological test” for those seeking to enter the US.
The State Department has begun tightening its visa grants, according to memos issued by secretary of state Rex Tillerson last month,
The directives instruct consular officials to remember “that all visa decisions are national security decisions”, adding: “Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns.”
Homeland security secretary John Kelly had suggested that extreme vetting would be limited to countries regarded as particular terrorism threats such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.
At a congressional hearing on US border security in February, Kelly promised that tighter screening was on the way, adding: “We want to get on their social media with passwords…If they don’t want to give us that information then they don’t come.”
Department insiders have voiced scepticism that a real change in policy would take place, given that some of the extreme vetting measures are already in practice for people who are deemed suspicious.
Security experts said that information gleaned from phones and social media could be helpful for identifying threats. Civil liberties groups argue that the measures violate privacy.