“If they don’t want to cooperate, then you don’t come in.”
US Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has informed Congress that the DHS is considering requiring refugees and visa applicants from seven Muslim-majority nations to hand over their social media credentials from Facebook and other sites as part of a security check. “We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say?” he told the House Committee on Homeland Security on Tuesday. “If they don’t want to cooperate, then you don’t come in.”
Kelly was referencing Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen, citizens of which were barred from entering the US by President Trump’s executive order. That order, however, remains in legal limbo after a federal judge blocked its enforcement. The Trump administration urged a federal appeals court on Tuesday to overturn the lower court’s ruling.
Kelly told the House panel that the idea was among “the things we’re thinking about” to bolster border security. Another form of vetting under consideration, he said, is demanding financial records. “We can follow the money, so to speak. How are you living, who’s sending you money?” he said. “It applies under certain circumstances, to individuals who may be involved in on the payroll of terrorist organizations.”
The Obama administration had considered—but passed on—demanding social media passwords from visitors entering the US. However, the Obama administration did adopt a plan to ask the millions of tourists entering the country each year to reveal their “online presence,” such as social media identities. The government announced the plan in June in a bid to give the DHS “clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections.”
That plan adds a line to the paper form and to the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application that US-bound visitors must fill out if they do not have a visa and plan on staying for up to 90 days for vacation, business, or other affairs. Under this security feature, the agency had said travelers coming to the US under the Visa Waiver Program would not be forced to disclose their social media handles. Instead, the government said, revealing passwords was “optional.”
Secretary Kelly, a Trump appointee, cautioned that his ideas on immigration security were not set in stone, have not been adopted, and were subject to change.