Commentary

U.S. Implements Mandatory Social Media Screening

The White House is moving fast to implement what President Trump previously described as “extreme vetting,” with the introduction of mandatory social media screening for any visa applicants who have spent time in territory controlled by the terrorist group ISIS.

Reuters first reported the news, citing four diplomatic memos sent to U.S. embassies and consulates in the last few weeks.

The new screening measures were ordered by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson separately from the administration’s two bans on travelers from a handful of Muslim-majority countries, both of which have been temporarily suspended by federal courts pending the outcome of legal challenges.

The latest social media screening measures are actually less ambitious than previous iterations: in earlier memos the State Department also instructed visa screeners to ask for phone numbers and email addresses, in addition to social media accounts.

Nonetheless, the new screening process could result in significant delays in the visa process, and will also present a personnel challenge, as U.S. embassies and consulates will presumably have to hire more staff fluent in local languages.

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Social media screening has been a favorite subject in national security policy discussions, and the Trump administration apparently intends to cast a wider net, beyond just potential Islamist terrorists.

Last month, for example, the White House proposed a new measure that would ask (but not require) Chinese visa holders to submit their social media profiles for review by customs officials when they visit the United States.

The new rule, which would apply to both tourists and business travelers, would invite Chinese visa holders to provide the information when filling out an online questionnaire on the U.S. Electronic Visa Update System.

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service, travelers who decline to provide social media accounts would not lower their chances for gaining entry to the country.

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