Social Media

New visa vetting to include social media handles

Shutterstock image: social media profiles. 

The State Department will begin seeking social media histories from visa applicants deemed to pose a potential risk of terrorism.

The Office of Management and Budget approved a request from the State Department make the change on May 23, according to a Reuters report.

The department proposed the changes to a "subset of visa applicants worldwide" to "more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities." The agency estimated the new screening measures would cover about 65,000 people, or about 0.5 percent of U.S. visa applicants worldwide.

A new form with the request was recently published by the State Department.

It plans to ask that group for their travel, address and employment histories for the last 15 years and all passport numbers, names and birthdates for siblings, children and current and former spouses or domestic partners.

State wants to follow the Department of Homeland Security in asking for social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used by the applicants during the last five years. It also wants telephone and email addresses for the same period.

"The request for social media identifiers and associated platforms is new for the Department of State, although it is already collected on a voluntary basis by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for certain individuals," the department said.

DHS has been moving to include review of travelers’ and immigrants’ social media as they come into the U.S. on several fronts.

In February testimony before a House Homeland Security hearing, DHS Secretary John Kelly testified that his agency would consider including social media password collection at border crossings as part of its evolving "extreme vetting" protocols.

Before that, in the wake of the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, two DHS components launched pilot programs to screen the social media of some prospective immigrants and visitors.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement began a pilot last August that uses social media screening in the visa issuance process and beyond.

The Citizenship and Immigration Service launched a social media screening pilot in April 2016. Under that pilot, USCIS screeners requested social media information from visa applicants, then checked the information against a tool developed by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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