Security chief says social media used in immigration
Send a link to a friend
[December 17, 2015]
By Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Homeland
Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Wednesday that his department has
been consulting social media in reviews of immigration applications
since early this year, hitting back at criticism that U.S. authorities
are not doing enough to weed out potential security threats.
The Department of Homeland Security has been criticized over reports
it did not routinely consult social media during the vetting process
for visa applications.
Questions arose after it came to light that one of the shooters in
the Dec. 2 killings of 14 people in San Bernardino, California,
Tashfeen Malik, entered the United States on a K1 or 'fiancee' visa.
The Los Angeles Times has reported she had pledged her support to
Islamic jihad in a private Facebook post.
Johnson said his department began consulting social media early this
year before granting certain immigration benefits but did not
specify which ones.
"We had policies in place regarding consulting social media which in
my judgment, particularly in this current environment, were too
restrictive," Johnson told reporters at the unveiling of a revamped
terrorism alert system.
"Under my leadership as secretary, we in fact began to consult
social media in connection with conferring various immigration
benefits and we will be doing more of this," he added. "Any reports
or partial reports to the contrary are simply false."
He noted DHS consults intelligence community databases and law
enforcement databases when it does vetting for "a lot" of
immigration benefits but said social media is also useful.
Monitoring of social media as a way to identify potentially violent
extremists was hotly debated Tuesday night by Republican
presidential candidates, with some candidates arguing for increased
scrutiny of social media in terrorism investigations.
[to top of second column]
While there currently is no explicit order banning visa
investigators from trawling applicants' social media accounts, some
agencies that process visa applications have been wary about doing
so, an Obama administration official said.
Johnson denied reports there was a policy in place in 2014 that
prevented agents from screening Malik before she entered the
"That would not be accurate," Johnson said. He would not comment on
the investigation but noted public reports that Malik made her posts
under an alias.
On Tuesday, two dozen Senate Democrats sent a letter to Johnson
calling on DHS to require social media background checks as part of
the visa screening process.
(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Susan Heavey and
[© 2015 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2015 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.