After the San Bernardino, California terrorist attack in December 2015, many politicians called for changes to the current background review process for obtaining visas. Specifically, lawmakers are asking that the State Department and Department of Homeland Security review applicants’ social media accounts such as Facebook and Instagram prior to visa issuance. Some proponents of social media screening say that these reviews may help deter fraudulent marriages, as well as be an important part of granting security clearances to government employees.
State Department and Homeland Security officials now say that they are increasing their screening efforts when it comes to social media, but did not specify how broad these increased reviews would be. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stated that they’ve already experimented with social media screening initiatives and plan on expanding their social media screening program soon.
This doesn’t come without challenges, though. The number of potential social media accounts to be searched is staggering. State Department records show that the U.S. government issued nearly 10 million non-immigrant visas in 2014. In addition to the use of strict privacy settings, the difficulty of interpreting the true meanings or intents of people’s online messages coupled with foreign alphabets and spellings poses challenges for those who are tasked with screening applicants’ social media accounts.
Even if officials enact a policy that requires social media screening, there’s the issue of how far such a review could go. For instance, officials might be able to look at public posts, but they would not be allowed to “friend” someone with the intent to review that person’s private posts.