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Snooping on social media proposed as part of US visa background checks

Published:Tuesday | December 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM


Lawmakers are working on legislation to ensure a person's online presence is reviewed as part of the vetting process for a visa to enter the United States (US).

The goal is to close security gaps that didn't pick up on one of the radicalised shooters in the San Bernardino, California, attack, who entered the country last year.

The Obama administration has directed the Homeland Security and State departments to review the process for screening people who apply for visas and to return with specific recommendations to close security gaps in the US visa system, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest yesterday.

Meanwhile, Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said the committee is working on legislation that would require online information, including social media accounts, be reviewed as part of the background check for visa applicants, including K-1 visas.

The Homeland Security Department said it is specifically reviewing policies on when authorities at US Citizenship and Immigration Services can look at social media posts as part of the vetting process for would-be immigrants applying for certain visas.

"I think the president's top priority here is the national security and safety of the American people," Earnest said. "And that will continue to be the case with ensuring that this K-1 visa programme is effectively implemented."

Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani woman who the FBI says carried out the San Bernardino attack with her husband, came to the US in 2014 on a K-1, or fiancÈ, visa.

Earnest did not provide specifics of the security review for visas, but said one consideration going forward is resources.

The government approved more than 9.9 million visa applications during the 2014 budget year.

The Homeland Security Department said three pilot programmes to specifically incorporate "appropriate" social media reviews into its vetting process were launched in the last year and the department is looking at other ways to use social media posts.

Malik's background check included at least one in-person interview in Pakistan and another after marrying Syed Farook, who was born in Illinois. She also had to provide fingerprints and a variety of background information. Authorities also vetted her, using intelligence and law-enforcement databases.