According to the Wall Street Journal, the Trump administration has began work on reviewing potential options for the “extreme vetting” program he mentioned on the campaign trail.
While Trump has already tried twice to implement a ban on people entering from seven (then 6) majority-Muslim nations, this plan goes a step beyond that and appears to be even less limited in its scope. The Wall Street Journal reports that this plan is currently meant to be applied to all foreign nationals including visitors from the 38 countries that are part of the U.S.’s Visa Waiver Program. This program includes some of the country’s closest allies such as the United Kingdom and Japan.
An adviser to the Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, told the paper that the procedure was meant to ensure that people who visited the U.S. had legitimate business in the country.
‘If there is any doubt about a person’s intentions coming to the United States, they should have to overcome — really and truly prove to our satisfaction — that they are coming for legitimate reasons.’
Perhaps the biggest change to come from this policy would be asking visitors, especially those seeking Visas or asylum, turn over their phones so officials could examine contacts and other information. Visitors have, on occasion, been required to turn over their cell phones, but this isn’t normally requested during the application process.
A senior DHS official told the Journal that the purpose of this program is to figure out who you are communicating with:
‘What you can get on the average person’s phone can be invaluable.’
The rule regarding cell phones isn’t necessarily new even if it does appear that it will become more widely used. However, the new vetting procedures could also apply to applicants’ social media and internet activity. DHS is considering asking Visa applicants for access to their social media usernames and passwords so they can see private information as well as public posts.
This requirement is not currently enforced, but Kelly’s comments to Congress in February make it sound as if such policies will soon be mandatory for anyone attempting to obtain a visa to travel to the U.S.
‘We want to say for instance, “what sites do you visit? And give us your passwords.” If they don’t want to give us that information then they don’t come.’
In response to Kelly’s comments, a group of about 50 civil rights organizations issued a statement where they called his password requirement “a direct assault on fundamental rights.” The organizations also warned that foreign countries could start applying such restrictions to American citizens who seek to travel abroad.
Former DHS officials who served under the Obama administration said that such policies, which were implemented in a very limited scope under the previous president, had mixed results. They admitted that the information obtained from cell phones and social media could be useful, but included downsides. For starters, it simply takes a long time to examine a person’s cell phone and social media history. Beyond that, Leon Rodriguez, who used to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, warned that those with ill intentions, such as criminals or terrorists, will find ways to work around the system.
‘The real bad guys will get rid of their phones. They’ll show up with a clean phone.’
As of right now, these policies have not been implemented to the extent that the Trump administration wishes, but that could change in the future.
Featured image via Getty Images.