Congress Seeks to Mandate Screening of Immigrants’ Social Media Accounts

New language would extend background checks to include social media

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The Senate is currently drafting legislation that would force the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement agencies to review social media accounts when performing mandatory background checks on potential refugees and visa applications, according to an advance draft of the bill reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

The legislation seeks to close current loopholes that prevented the FBI and Department of Homeland Security from reviewing social media accounts belonging to the accused San Bernardino attackers, who reportedly expressed support for ISIS and other known extremist groups on these accounts.

The language is being inserted into a larger counter-terrorism bill that would tighten and bolster background investigations for refugees and visa applicants seeking entrance into the United States.

Currently, the State Department has sole responsibility for vetting potential refugees.

The bill would require additional federal law enforcement agencies to determine whether refugees and potential applicants are a threat to the United States and whether they may have lent support to a foreign terrorist organization.

U.S. law enforcement agencies are reportedly blocked from reviewing social media accounts belonging to visa applicants, according to former officials who spoke to the press. This policy may have contributed to failed efforts by the Obama administration to flag social media postings by the accused shooter Tashfeen Malik that expressed her support for violent jihad.

U.S. officials disclosed in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack that Malik publicly expressed "admiration" for ISIS. The pro-terrorist posting was put on Facebook on the same day the couple is alleged to have carried out the attack.

Malik and her husband, Syed Farook, are accused of committing the mass shooting as part of a terrorism campaign.

The enhanced screening in the proposed legislation could help law enforcement agencies detect potential radicals and terrorist-linked individuals applying for entrance to the United States, according to sources familiar with the legislation.

"There is no excuse in this century to exclude an individual’s social media footprint in a background check. I am drafting legislation to direct the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and others to fully reverse this exclusion and pay full attention to pro-terrorist social media in vetting procedures," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.).

"The deeper we dig into the vetting process, the more holes we find," said one senior congressional aide who spoke to the Free Beacon. "It’s pretty clear the administration continues to be less-than-forthcoming on just how bad the problems have been. Many lawmakers want to plug the holes now before it’s too late."

Adam Kredo   Email Adam | Full Bio | RSS
Adam Kredo is senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Formerly an award-winning political reporter for the Washington Jewish Week, where he frequently broke national news, Kredo’s work has been featured in outlets such as the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Politico, among others. He lives in Maryland with his comic books. His Twitter handle is @Kredo0. His email address is kredo@freebeacon.com.