America orders 'mandatory social media checks' for visa applicants

Posted March 25, 2017

Memos from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offer a first glimpse of what President Trump's proposed "extreme vetting" of visa applicants will look like, Reuters and The New York Times reported Thursday. Consular officers were told to consider posing extra questions to applicants from the identified population groups, including asking for "all email addresses and social media handles used by the applicant in the last five years". Currently, social media screenings by consular officials are rare.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered the "mandatory social media check" in four memos sent to American diplomatic missions over the past two weeks. The cables also demonstrate the administrative and logistical hurdles the White House faces in executing its vision.

Tillerson left it up to the embassies to decide which "populations" of visa applicants would need further vetting.

The 17 March memo noted that applicants falling in one of the identified population groups should be considered for additional higher-level screenings.

Those population groups would likely vary from country to country, according to sources familiar with the cables, as the March 17 memo does not explicitly provide for coordination between the embassies.

The State Department wouldn't comment beyond saying it was working to meet the Trump memorandum's requirements and that "visitor screening and vetting procedures are created to effectively identify individuals who could pose a threat to the United States".

Immigration attorney Jay Gairson said, 'What this language effectively does is give the consular posts permission to step away from the focused factors they have spent years developing and revising, and instead broaden the search to large groups based on gross factors such as nationality and religion'.

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The State Department was unable to confirm whether the new March 31 meeting in Brussels will replace a planned foreign ministers' meeting that Tillerson will not attend on April 5 and 6. "Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns", Tillerson wrote in the cables.

The Trump administration originally included Iraq among the countries affected by its proposed travel ban. The second, much briefer message rescinded much of that March 15 memo.

While the State Department never said what Tillerson's scheduling conflict was, Trump may meet China's President Xi Jinping in Florida in early April. "All visa decisions are national security decisions". "Social media checks, as well as demands for social media passwords at USA borders, have significant implications for privacy and freedom of expression".

The questions asked where applicants had lived, traveled and worked over the previous 15 years. Even if the applicant otherwise qualifies for a visa, those identified as meeting the criteria would require additional scrutiny and possible denial. "Social media checks, as well as demands for social media passwords at US borders, have significant implications for privacy and freedom of expression".

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will attend a rescheduled meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation alliance's 28 foreign ministers after coming under fire for saying he would miss the event because it conflicted with his schedule. "It's not something you can do on a timely basis".