US Secretary of State wants 'Social media checks' for VISA Applicants

News by Max Metzger

Leaked memos from the US secretary of state reveals new measures to intensify scrutiny of applicants for US VISAs.

A series of new leaked memos from the US government have revealed the proposal of new measures aimed at enhancing scrutiny of incoming foreigners. The cables, published by Reuters, come from the office of Rex Tillerson, The US secretary of state, who apparently wants to make the VISA application process more rigorous for applicants from certain areas of the world.

Tillerson has ordered “mandatory social media checks” for those who have ever been to countries where Daesh, also known as the Islamic State, holds territory. Applicants will be required to hand over social media handles for investigators to review for signs of terrorist sympathy.

Daesh has lost over a quarter of its territory in the last year, but the intensified investigation is still likely to apply to those who have ever visited Syria or Iraq. The memos show a particular focus on Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, too.

The memos also proposed that applicants hand over all passport numbers, social media handles and email addresses and phone numbers they had used in the last five years and of residence, work and travel over the last 15 years.

It is not known whether the advent of new measures would take into account the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) stated desire to attain the social media passwords of VISA applicants. The new director of the DHS, John Kelly told Congress in early February that he would like to see the US government demand the passwords of certain applicants so it can properly investigate their online activity through sites like Facebook and Twitter.

He was terse in his testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee: “We want to get on their social media with passwords – what do you do, what do you say. If they don't want to cooperate then they don't come in. If they truly want to come to America they'll cooperate, if not then ‘next in line'.”

The Trump administration has been clear in its desire to see increased security over US borders, and often said that it would introduce “extreme vetting” procedures for those wishing to enter the United States.

Details of what “extreme vetting” actually entails have been few and far between but the release of these memos sheds new light on what the policy means.

The administration's previous attempts at controlling immigration into the United States from certain countries have swiftly failed. A variety of executive orders strengthening immigration enforcement, halting incoming immigration and even depriving foreigners of certain US privacy rights have been quickly met with criticism and often been deemed unlawful in US courts.

While social media checks this new attempt at introducing “extreme vetting”, it is likely to significantly lengthen the US VISA application process and add to the workload of those overseeing it.

The terrorist threat caused by groups like Daesh, have prompted a great swathe of security measures which are considered intrusive by some. The UK's Investigatory Powers Act was recently passed by Parliament to wails of objection by privacy advocates. The Act legally formalises the practice of bulk collection and allows law enforcement bodies to look into the online communications history of suspected security threats and criminals.

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