US authorities could ask visa applicants for passwords to their own social media accounts in future background checks, US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Congress on Tuesday.
Kelly told the Congress the measure was part of the effort to toughen vetting of visitors from seven Muslim majority countries to screen out people who could pose a security threat, FOX News reported.
He said it was ‘one of the things’ under consideration especially for visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries with very weak background screening of their own — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
“We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say?” he told the House Homeland Security Committee. “If they don’t want to cooperate then you don’t come in.”
Kelly said that under the existing vetting process officials “don’t have a lot to work with,” and have to rely on the applicant’s documentation and the answers they provide about their background.
He pointed out the problem with documentation and record keeping in the so-called “failed states” such as Syria or Somalia which posed a problem for US authorities.
“When someone says, ‘I’m from this town and this was my occupation,’ [officials] essentially have to take the word of the individual,” he said.
“I frankly don’t think that’s enough, certainly President Trump doesn’t think that’s enough. So we’ve got to maybe add some additional layers.”
US may even obtain applicant’s financial records, Kelly said.
“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.”
Kelly stressed that no decision had been made on this, but said tighter screening was definitely in the future, even if it means longer delays for awarding US visas to visitors.
The ruling by US Court on President Donald Trump’s executive order on temporarily barring entry to most refugees and travellers from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen is expected this week.
One of the prerequisites under discussion is the disclosure of social media account passwords to American embassies upon applying for visas.
He stressed that this was just one of the ideas which could be introduced for all worldwide aliens applying to the US, but especially the 7 Muslim majority countries of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, which comprise President Trumps controversial “Muslim Ban”.
One of the reasons given for additional intrusion was that these 7 countries had a weak background screening.
Incidentally, these are the countries which President Obama and congress designated in an executive order as requiring additional security immigration checks and further singled out by President Trump in the temporary immigrant and refugee ban order, which was overturned by Judge James Robart.
At the committee hearing, Secretary Kelly announced; “We’re looking at some enhanced or some additional screening.” “We may want to get on their social media, with passwords.”
He further added; “It’s very hard to truly vet these people in these countries, the seven countries.
But if they come in, we want to say, what websites do they visit, and give us your passwords.
So we can see what they do on the internet.”
It was also pointed out that these are just discussions and no final decision had been made, but it was necessary to even if there is a longer delay in the awarding and processing of visa applicants to the US, But warned noncooperation with US regulations and requests will not be tolerated.
“These are the things we are thinking about. But over there we can ask them for this kind of information and if they truly want to come to America, then they will cooperate. If not, next in line.”