Homeland Security Refuses to Review Social Media of People Trying to Immigrate

The other day I warned people about sharing things like “chicken pox parties” on social media where someone who disapproves of their parenting could report them for child abuse.

Ironically, Homeland Security doesn’t bother when they are allegedly vetting potential immigrants. From The Hill: “Immigration officials prohibited from looking at visa applicants’ social media.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson decided against ending a secret U.S. policy that prohibits immigration officials from reviewing social media posts of foreigners applying for U.S. visas, according to a report by ABC News.

Johnson decided to keep the prohibition in place in early 2014 because he feared a civil liberties backlash and “bad public relations,” according to ABC.

“During that time period immigration officials were not allowed to use or review social media as part of the screening process,” John Cohen, a former acting undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security for intelligence and analysis, told ABC News. 

One current and one former senior counterterrorism official confirmed Cohen’s account to ABC. 

A DHS spokesman told ABC News that in the fall of 2014 after Cohen left, the department began three pilot programs to include social media in vetting, but officials say it’s still not a widespread policy and a review is underway.

The scrutiny of the policy comes after U.S. officials learned that Tashfeen Malik, one of the shooters in San Bernardino, Calif., posted a message on Facebook declaring allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria before carrying out an attack that killed 14 people.

Throughout much of the article one is left uncertain if they are talking about public information or private information. It sounds like they mean both. But several paragraphs in, it is made clear that they weren’t allowed to view “public postings.” They were prohibited from searching for a person’s name on Facebook.

That is insane.

And the reason for it was the perceived public relations value of it. It is possible that Americans died because of “optics.”

 Cohen said he and other U.S. officials had pressed for a policy change in 2014 but top officials with the DHS’s Office of Civil Liberties and the Office of Privacy opposed it. 

“The primary concern was that it would be viewed negatively if it was disclosed publicly and there were concerns that it would be embarrassing,” Cohen said in an interview with “Good Morning America.”  

 “There is no excuse for not using every resource at our disposal to fully vet individuals before they come to the United States,” he added. 

 Another former senior counterterrorism official vouched for Cohen’s retelling: “They felt looking at public postings [of foreign U.S. visa applicants] was an invasion of their privacy.” 

Cohen said there were concerns over the U.S. government’s standing with civil rights groups and European allies after National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed surveillance policies.

It was primarily a question of optics,” Cohen said. “There were concerns from a privacy and civil liberties perspective that while this was not illegal, that it would be viewed negatively if it was disclosed publicly.”

Dragging Edward Snowden’s name into this is just an attempt to smear him. Opposing illegal spying that violates the Fourth Amendment and mass surveillance that does nothing to keep us safe has nothing to do with using public sources to do a targeted background check.

How is it that Homeland Security can defend illegal spying and then tell us they endangered our lives by refusing to legally make use of public posts to vet visa applicants?

These people are not interested in protecting us.