Share |

Feds, Wasting Time on Facebook

Alex Nowrasteh

In the annals of the Federal Register, the Department of
Homeland Security just published a scary new rule. It requires
immigrants to hand over “social media handles, aliases,
associated identifiable information and search results” as
part of the visa-vetting process.

Slated to go into effect Oct. 18, and applying to permanent
residents and naturalized citizens as well , this rule is intended
to weed out people whose social media activity reveals they are
national security threats.

Unfortunately, despite the Trump administration crowing about
the importance of “extreme vetting” of newcomers, the
new rule will just make immigration a more convoluted process,
while doing little to protect Americans from terrorism.

Much of the impetus for searching social media accounts, such as
Twitter and Facebook, comes from a myth about the Dec. 2, 2015,
terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., in which Pakistani-born
Tashfeen Malik and her U.S.-born husband murdered 14 people.

Before coming to America, Malik was rumored to have publicly
posted on her social media accounts that she supported violent
jihad.

If the government discovered those posts, supporters of the new
Homeland Security Department rule argue, many lives could have been
saved.

Only that’s not what happened. After the rumors started to
swirl, then-FBI Director James Comey noted that, “Those
communications are direct, private messages … we have found no
evidence of posting on social media by either of them …
reflecting their commitment to jihad or to martyrdom.”

And no other jihadi terrorists who targeted U.S. soil have
publicized their radical intent online prior to an attack , as far
as we know. Little wonder why not — it would be supremely
stupid.

The “underwear bomber” (Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab)
did post jihad-supportive statements in Islamic chat rooms using a
pseudonym, but that is not a social media handle. Convicted
terrorist Mohamed El Hassan posted, under a pseudonym, at least one
YouTube comment supporting a radical preacher.

If wannabe terrorists post online, they use a pseudonym.
Accessing immigrants’ legitimate social media handle
won’t expose terrorists-in-waiting.

Introducing more ideological thought crimes into the immigration
process will just place more power in the hands of unaccountable
bureaucrats and won’t improve security.

Comey’s comments and the facts about terrorists posting on
social media were too late to stop 25 U.S. senators from writing a
letter to the Homeland Security Department in 2015 requesting the
agency look into screening social media accounts.

But a 2016 pilot program to do exactly that proved so
ineffective that Homeland Security determined that an immigration
agent would have to manually check each immigrant’s social
media account.

All of which is why it’s highly unlikely this new rule
will prove successful from a security standpoint. Indeed, the
social-media-vetting program proposed by the Trump administration
was tested on a group of refugees who were rejected for national
security reasons — and it found zero evidence of ties to
terrorist groups or any other threat to national security.

The fact is, normal immigrant vetting is already so thorough
that a social media check is unable to increase security. As for
refugees, they’re already subject to the most intense
visa-vetting of any immigrant or visitor category.

Besides, authorities already have access to this information.
Prosecutors and attorneys already introduce social media posts as
evidence in immigration courts.

Immigration attorney Greg Siskind told me that,
“We’ve heard anecdotally for years about how
immigration examiners will look at social media and scour the
internet when adjudicating a case, and I’ve told clients to
assume that their online history is being reviewed.”

Mining social media posts as evidence for a specific claim is
easier and more likely to succeed than fishing expeditions for
posts that show an intent to violate national security.

As a broad policy matter across the federal government, the
Trump administration has promised to remove two regulations for
each new one introduced. However, it has made an exception in the
immigration system, where the rules and regulations — each of
them costing time and money — keep piling up.

For example, the government increased the length of the green
card adjustment-of-status form to 18 pages, up from six, while
doubling the length of many other applications.

This new proposed rule, whose rationale is rooted in fake news,
will waste many man-hours and delay visa-processing to legitimate
immigrants for no apparent gain in security. The Trump
administration should scuttle it now.

Alex
Nowrasteh
is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato
Institute.