DHS Plans to Increase Scrutiny of Social Media Posts by Visa Applicants

A pupil uses a laptop computer during a english lesson at the Ridings Federation Winterbourne International Academy in Winterbourne near Bristol on February 26, 2015 in South Gloucestershire, England.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is planning to increase scrutiny of social-media posts by visa applicants before certain individuals are permitted to enter the United States, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has learned from a person familiar with the plan.

WSJ notes, “The move is part of a new focus on the use of social-networking sites following the shooting rampage in San Bernardino, Calif., two weeks ago.”

“Currently, DHS looks at postings by visa applicants only intermittently, as part of three pilot programs that began in earnest earlier this year,” it adds. “It is unclear how quickly a new process could be implemented, and other details couldn’t be learned.”

The House of Representatives is expected to soon vote on a bill that would require the Obama administration to craft a strategy to combat terrorists’ use of social media—the Combat Terrorist Use of Social Media Act.

Under the measure, the White House will be required to inform Congress about the social media-related training it provides federal law enforcement officials.

“That bill is the latest to respond to public anxiety following the San Bernardino killings, which investigators believe could have been inspired by Islamic State propaganda fueled by social media,” notes the Journal. “House Republicans have worked to advance several bills since the rampage that aim to show they are taking concrete steps to address Americans’ security concerns.”

Federal investigators are examining clues in Facebook posts, computer records, and elsewhere that may provide a hint at the intentions of Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, the couple behind the Dec. 2 San Bernardino massacre that left 14 people dead and 21 others injured. The married couple was killed by police in a shootout after the terrorist attack.

Malik spent time in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia before she moved to the United States in 2014 on a K-1 visa, granted to people engaged to American citizens.

On the day of the rampage, Malik allegedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in a Facebook post registered to an alias.

“Counterterror officials are looking to see if she made similar postings in the past,” reports the Journal.

ISIS and other jihadists groups have avidly used social media to communicate with one another and recruit followers.

For years, intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism officials have tried to unveil evidence of attacks in social media postings.

“It is time this administration stopped worrying about the privacy of foreigners more than the security of Americans,” reportedly said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, referring to the DHS move.

“Separately, congressional negotiators were looking at including in a fiscal 2016 spending bill a measure to impose new curbs on travel by citizens who live in one of the 38 countries that enjoy expedited travel clearance to the U.S.,” reports WSJ.

“The measure, which passed the House last week, would require any citizen of the 38 countries who traveled to Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan in the past five years to obtain a visa, a time-consuming process requiring an in-person interview,” it adds. “People who are citizens of both one of the 38 favored countries and of one of the four flagged countries would also have to obtain a visa.”

Currently, the State Department, which is also involved in the visa application process, is also looking into ways to increase scrutiny of social media postings in the future, notes WSJ.


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