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Memo: Obama Admin. Rejected Plan to Screen Social Media Use in 2011

Senior officials rejected a proposal to incorporate social media screenings in the vetting process of foreign visa applicants in 2011, MSNBC reports.

While the current screening process does not have a policy requiring social media screenings, the memo obtained by MSNBC provides a proposal for the Obama administration to put in place requirements for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services personnel “to use social networking Internet sites for purposes of verifying information related to applications and petitions.”

According to a senior official speaking with MSNBC, the policy was rejected in 2011 after about a year of review and was about to be incorporated until senior officials stopped it.

The official, who spoke to the outlet on condition of anonymity to provide information about the security discussions, said it “is unusual” for a policy to go through the review process and then “not happen.”

“We are at war now,” the official said, “and we need all the tools we can get.”

MSNBC published the redacted memo, which was ultimately rejected, noting that DHS has not disputed it but rather pointed to three recent pilot programs started this year to perform social media vetting.

“The Department is actively considering additional ways to incorporate the use of social media review,” DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron told MSNBC, adding that they are also seeking to ensure that such vetting follows “current law and appropriately takes into account civil rights and civil liberties and privacy protections.”

Reports that one of the San Bernardino terrorists who was approved to come to the U.S. on a fiancé visa revealed her violent jihadist views on social media has sparked concerns about the department’s social media use, or lack thereof. Senior officials have pointed to the fact that the shooter Tashfeen Malik posted under a pseudonym and might not have been detected even with an overarching policy.

“One source with knowledge of DHS screening said that, for years, employees were prevented from even accessing social media sites because of government firewalls designed to prevent staff from engaging in personal social networking on the job,” MSNBC reports, noting that the memo includes a solution to that issue by saying social media access would be only for “official government business.”

The memo also address the privacy concern issue, saying reviews would be limited to “publicly available information.”

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