Extreme vetting for all foreigners coming to the USA could soon become a reality, both during the check at the point of entry and during visa interviews. An article by the New York Times Tuesday describes how the administration is evolving its verification programs.
Foreigners entering the country even on a short trip could be forced to reveal contacts on their mobile phone, social media profiles, and passwords as well as financial records. They would need to answer to probing questions about their ideology and intent coming to the USA.
As noted in a previous article, the administration also wants much closer scrutiny of people asking for a visa at a US embassy. This would include European countries and would entail a much more detailed interview.
“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,” said Gene Hamilton, senior counselor to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
This is an evolution of the travel ban and it might even apply to the 38 countries which participate in the Visa Waiver Program.
Phones are already being examined occasionally at ports of entry, and the major policy change consists in asking them already during the visa interview.
The goal is to “figure out who you are communicating with,” the senior DHS official said. “What you can get on the average person’s phone can be invaluable.”
Social Media to Be Monitored as Well
This extends as well to social media profiles and passwords so that officers can check private messages and private connections. DHS has already experimented asking this information and it could become routine.
“We want to say for instance, ‘What sites do you visit? And give us your passwords,’ so that we can see what they do on the internet,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in February. “If they don’t want to give us that information then they don’t come.”
A coalition of about 50 civil liberties organizations including the ACLU already issued a statement in the past saying that requiring passwords is an assault on fundamental rights. They also complained that the same policy could be mirrored by other countries toward US citizens.
There are still too little statistical data to prove if this kind of policy would be successful. Some former officials claim that real terrorists would find a way around the obstacle. Yet they concede that having access to personal contacts could gain valuable information.
What Questions Could Be Asked
The type of questions under consideration would center on subjects like honor killings, women treatment, human life sanctity, legitimate targets in military operations. The goal is not to screen people who have different opinions, but rather those that would act on them.
The revised travel ban states:
“This program shall include the development of a uniform baseline for screening and vetting standards and procedures, such as in-person interviews; a database of identity documents proffered by applicants to ensure that duplicate documents are not used by multiple applicants; amended application forms that include questions aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent; a mechanism to ensure that applicants are who they claim to be; a mechanism to assess whether applicants may commit, aid, or support any kind of violent, criminal, or terrorist acts after entering the United States; and any other appropriate means for ensuring the proper collection of all information necessary for a rigorous evaluation of all grounds of inadmissibility or grounds for the denial of other immigration benefits.”
The new DHS policy is going to get pushback from many fronts, but it looks inevitable that tougher procedures will be applied not just to prospective refugees but to visitors and other would-be immigrants.