The Department of Homeland Security is considering a new rule that would require individuals from the seven countries affected by the administration’s recent travel moratorium to hand over their social-media passwords in order to gain entry to the United States, according to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
Kelly mentioned the password requirement as one of a number of possible new vetting procedures for travelers in testimony to Congress on Tuesday.
The House Homeland Security Committee called Kelly to explain what measures the administration plans to implement after its 90-day ban on travelers from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen ends. That ban is currently being challenged in the courts.
In his testimony, Kelly told the committee: “We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say? If they don’t want to cooperate, then you don’t come in.”
Kelly noted that this proposal was prompted, in part, by the fact that U.S. officials can’t rely on background information provided by weak governments in countries like Syria, Somalia and Yemen, currently embroiled in civil wars.
"It’s very hard to truly vet these people in these countries, the seven countries... But if they come in, we want to say, what Web sites do they visit, and give us your passwords. So we can see what they do on the Internet," said Kelly"
Social media isn’t the only area under consideration for more intensive vetting: Kelly said DHS is also examining whether it can gain access to financial records, which could reveal possible ties to terrorist organizations.
All the new screening measures would be implemented in the countries of origin: “But over there we can ask them for this kind of information and if they truly want to come to America, then they will cooperate. If not, next in line.”The previous administration had already introduced social-media screening for foreign travelers, but at a much lower level. In December, the DHS began asking visitors from abroad to voluntarily provide details of their social-media accounts – but not passwords.
Under the current screening system, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service includes a query on its Electronic System for Travel Authorization form for individuals seeking entrance to the country under a visa waiver program, asking them to provide information identifying their social media accounts.
The electronic form provides a pull-down menu that includes a number of major social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube; it also asks for user names, screen names, or other identifying information.