Senate

Senators want visa screening to include social media

Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced legislation on Thursday that would allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to search public social media accounts as part of a background check for a visa. 

{mosads}Heinrich called the move “common sense.” 
 
“This bill makes practical security enhancements that modernize our visa system, ensure it’s rigorous and comprehensive, and are critical to protecting our homeland,” he added. 
 
Meanwhile, Flake said that it “should be crystal clear to those inside and outside of DHS that the agency has the authority to review publicly available social media posts when vetting visa applications.”
 
The legislation would specifically let the DHS search any “open source information” — including social media and other Internet sites. 
 
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has also introduced legislation that would require the department to search social media and the Internet as part of the visa process. Meanwhile, Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) said on Thursday that he’ll be introducing a bill that is similar to McCain’s legislation in the House.
 
Senators have repeatedly sent letters to both President Obama and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson urging the administration to include social media after officials said that Tashfeen Malik, identified as one of the shooters in San Bernardino, Calif., posted a message on Facebook declaring allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) before carrying out the attack.
 
FBI Director James Comey, however, said on Wednesday that Malik’s messages discussing extremism only occurred on private messages, not public postings that would be searchable under the Flake-Heinrich legislation. 
 
DHS officials have gone on defense over its screening process amid increased lawmaker scrutiny, with officials saying earlier this week that it does include social media occasionally in the background check process for visa applicants. 
 
ABC News reported earlier this month that Johnson decided against ending a policy blocking officials from reviewing social media accounts for visa applicants, though the department has started to limite pilot programs that incorporate social media.
 
Tags Jeff Flake John McCain Martin Heinrich

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