On its face, the State Department’s new requirement that nearly all foreign applicants for United States visas submit their social media usernames, previous e-mail addresses and phone numbers might sound like over-the-top bureaucratic intrusion. But it’s a smart move in the world we live in – where ISIS is active, cartels flourish and radicalization via the internet is global.
The new requirement is expected to effect an estimated 15 million people who apply for visas to the U.S. every year and is part of the Trump administration’s enhanced screening of potential immigrants and visitors. The updated forms list a number of social media platforms and require an applicant’s account names for the previous five years.
Yes, it is dependent on the applicant being forthright and truthful. And, yes, it’s likely the more tech-savvy will keep the handles on their indiscreet accounts to themselves. But with the right forensics and breadcrumbs, you can find a person’s internet doings through their online community.
And when you do, you can learn a lot from social media.
Take the arrest last week of a 17-year-old Albuquerquean calling himself “Yunng_Finesse” when he posed on Snapchat with pills suspected of being laced with fentanyl, a wad of $100 bills and an AR-15 pistol. “Yunng_Finesse,” aka Nathaniel Valenzuela, is home grown. But it makes sense to screen for his counterparts if they want entry to the U.S.
“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening,” the State Department says.
Privacy concerns are misplaced. You waive certain ones when you apply. Americans who want TSA “pre-check” status for air travel must agree to a background check, photo and fingerprinting. For Global Entry, that screening is enhanced and includes a personal interview.
It should be the first priority of the government to protect its citizenry. The new visa requirement is a step in that direction because, in the words of the State Department, “it will strengthen our process for vetting the applicants and confirming their identity.”
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.