The Department of Homeland Security will consider reviewing the social media of certain visa applicants, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday, responding to growing criticism after revelations about one of the San Bernardino terrorist’s social media postings.
“They’ve acknowledged that part of that review is to consider ways to incorporate the use of social media vetting in their screening programs,” Earnest said.
However, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has sent mixed signals, asserting there are “certain legal limits” constraining the review of social media because “we are dealing with private communications.”
Tashfeen Malik, the female San Bernardino terrorist, passed three background checks to obtain a U.S. visa despite supporting violent Islamic extremism on social media.
This undated photo provided by the FBI shows Tashfeen Malik. Malik and her husband, Syed Farook, died in a fierce gunbattle with authorities several hours after their commando-style assault on a gathering of Farook's colleagues from the San Bernardino County, California, health department Dec. 2. (FBI via AP)
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation Tuesday to require DHS to search social media websites and publicly available information of prospective foreign travelers or immigrants seeking to enter the United States.
“Following the tragedy in San Bernardino, we have learned that the Obama Administration has declined to review information available on social media platforms to screen for threats from foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States,” McCain said in a statement. “This purposeful refusal to examine publicly available information defies belief, especially as we grapple with complex technical questions to address the problem of criminals and terrorists ‘going dark,’ or utilizing readily available encryption to escape court-ordered government search. It is unacceptable that Congress has to legislate on this, and that it wasn’t already the Department of Homeland Security’s practice to take such commonsense steps when screening individuals entering this country.
Asked about the legislation, Earnest said it isn’t necessary.
“The Department of Homeland Security has been, at the direct order of the president of the United States, has been working with the State Department to review the K1 Visa program, and they’ve acknowledged that part of that review is to consider ways to incorporate the use of social media vetting in their screening programs,” Earnest told reporters. “We’ll leave it to the experts to determine the best way to strengthen the security of our screening programs. That is, after all, the president’s top priority. They would be able to best assess the optimal way to incorporate the review of – for example – social media postings into screening process.”
Earnest argued a better use of time would be providing the experts at DHS with adequate funding.
“If members of Congress have new ideas for work they believe the Department of Homeland Security should do, ostensibly that should be paired with the resources necessary to fulfill those work requests,” Earnest said. “If Sen. McCain were under the view that this is important enough for him to pass legislation on, then surely he would believe this would be important enough to fund.”
Meanwhile, Tea Party Patriots President Jenny Beth Martin said the social media screening lapse demonstrates the need for a new DHS secretary.
“This is a no-brainer, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson must resign or President Obama must fire him immediately,” Martin said in a statement. “It is frightening for Americans to learn that Johnson supported a secret policy to ignore the public social media postings of foreign nationals trying to enter the United States out of concern for political correctness and fear of ‘bad public relations’ for the Obama Administration.”
She added, “Additionally, we call on every Republican presidential candidate to publicly commit, during tonight’s debate in Las Vegas, that if elected they will reject this absurd policy and do everything in their power under the Constitution to ensure the safety and security of the people of the United States.”