The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a statement saying that US visa officials plan to scan applicants’ social media accounts in an attempt to increase national security.
Washington is now placing increased pressure on DHS to heighten security measures surrounding the international travel process, in wake of the shocking terrorist attack on San Bernardino, California which left 14 people dead.
The source at DHS stated that currently they are only required to scan social media accounts intermittently but details were scarce at the moment and they are not sure of how soon the changes will be implemented.
Tashfeen Malik, who was one of the perpetrators in the San Bernardino case, had been making allusions to violent jihad on her Facebook page from as far back as 2012, according to law enforcement sources
The NYTimes stated that Malik underwent three background checks, yet none of them scrutinized her social media activities when she applied for a US K-1 fiance visa. She was not identified as a potential threat despite being interviewed by the US embassy and vetted by five government agencies that ran checks on her against terrorist databases.
"If you're going to start doing a deeper dive into somebody and looking at their social media postings or other things, you really want to focus your effort on the high-risk traveler, the person that you're really worried about being a threat to the United States," said James Carafano, national security expert and vice president of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation. "The question is, how do you identify them?"
Now John Cohen, a national security consultant at ABC News revealed that DHS Secretary Johnson opposed changing the restrictions on viewing visa applicants’ social media accounts as part of the screening process.
Fearing a civil liberties backlash and "bad public relations" for the Obama administration, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson refused in early 2014 to end a secret U.S. policy that prohibited immigration officials from reviewing the social media messages of all foreign citizens applying for U.S. visas, a former senior department official said.
"During that time period immigration officials were not allowed to use or review social media as part of the screening process," John Cohen, a former acting under-secretary at DHS for intelligence and analysis. Cohen is now a national security consultant for ABC News.
President Obama has also expressed concerns over the vulnerabilities in the visa application system, citing in the Oval Office Address on Dec 6:
This hands-off policy is now being compared to the one that agency approved in 2012 for monitoring open source social media activity of regular Americans. Only time will reveal the effectiveness of this new policy.