Trump admin. takes a step toward 'extreme vetting' with rule targeting social media accounts

The state dept. is considering a rule targeting applicants' social media.

ByABC News
May 4, 2017, 3:05 PM

— -- The U.S. State Department is proposing tougher questions for some visa applicants that would include requiring thousands to give the government access to their social media accounts from the past five years.

The proposal would be a significant step toward the "extreme vetting" of immigrants that President Trump promised to implement.

The new rule, if approved, would apply to "immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities."

Among the new questions would be requesting social media profiles from the last five years -- the first time that will be used in the application process -- prior passport numbers, greater detail about family members, and longer personal history, including travel, employment, and residence for the last 15 years, instead of the last five that applicants are asked for now.

The department estimates that this would affect 65,000 applicants a year, or 0.5 percent of all applicants, and would require 65,000 more hours of work per year.

Critics say the process will be labor intensive, with little pay-off.

"The more effective tactics are the methods that we currently use to monitor terrorist organizations, not just stumbling into the terrorist who is dumb enough to post on his Facebook page 'I am going to blow up something in the United States,'" John Sandweg, a former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security, told Reuters.

The proposal is an answer to the memorandum President Trump signed on March 6, ordering Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with the attorney general and the secretary of Homeland Security, to implement his travel restrictions executive order.

While that executive order -- and a second, modified one -- are still tied up in the courts, the underlying review of vetting procedures, including this new proposal, continues.

"National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications," a State Department official told ABC News. "We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes."

Failure to provide all this new information will not necessarily result in visa denial, according to the State Department, and social media profiles "will not be used to deny visas based on applicants’ race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender, or sexual orientation," it said.

It will be up to the individual consular officer screening the applicant to determine if he or she requires the additional questions.

The proposal, submitted to the Office of Management and Budget, will now be open to public comment until May 18, and if approved by OMB, the rule will apply for 180 days.

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