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Kārlis Dambrāns / flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

U.S. senators look to social-media surveillance after San Bernardino attack

Can the U.S. government effectively monitor what immigrants post online?


Patrick Howell O'Neill


One of the shooters behind the deadly attack in San Bernardino, California, spoke openly on social media about her support for violent jihad as well as her desire to take part in it, according to a report in the New York Times.

As a result, multiple U.S. senators are calling for reform so that immigrants entering the United States have their social media checked by Homeland Security.

Tashfeen Malik, 27, and her husband Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, killed 14 people and injured 22 others on Dec. 2, during the holiday party of a San Bernardino County government agency where Farook worked.

Malik immigrated to the United States from Pakistan in 2014. Malik’s move has come under increased scrutiny because three background checks failed to find her open support for violent jihad before she and Farook opened fire.

Social media is not currently a standard part of Homeland Security’s background check. In addition to debates about whether or not it would be appropriate to scan every immigrant’s social media presence, there are questions about whether such a broad check would be possible at all.

ABC News reports that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson continued a “secret U.S. policy” that stops immigration officials from reviewing the social media posts of foreigners applying for U.S. visas, according to an unnamed and former senior department official.

The policy is in place to avoid “bad public relations,” the anonymous source said.

Homeland Security said programs to monitor the social media activity of visa applicants have been in testing for over a year.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is one of several prominent U.S. congressmen pushing for broader investigation into immigrants’ social media use.

“Had they checked out Tashfeen Malik,” Schumer said on Sunday, “maybe those people in San Bernardino would be alive.”

Across the aisle, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) agreed, saying, “We want to look at how our immigration process for a visa for a spouse broke down, that they didn’t notice the radicalization.”

It’s not yet clear what exactly Malik said on social media—though she is said to have professed allegiance to the Islamic State—nor do we know the specifics of what Burr and Schumer want. Would only violent rhetoric bar a person from entering the United States, or would the threshold be lower? Who would draw the line, and who would make the necessary judgements?

The K1-Visa program, under which Malik entered the country, is currently under review, according to the White House.

H/T New York Times | Photo via Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

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