San Bernardino Shooting

Secret Watchlists and Body Searches: Yes. Social Media Post Reviews: No. Our DHS in Action.

Baffling contradictions about privacy or just old-fashioned blame-shifting?

|

Of course, dealing with the TSA would make even the most passive of people ponder unspeakable acts.
TSA

So the federal government will place people on watchlists and no-fly lists with no real due process and make travel extremely difficult, if not impossible, for people it suspects may be plotting some act of terrorism. Or knows somebody who is. Or has the same name as somebody who is. Or if somebody checks the wrong box. And the federal government will fondle you and your children and your elderly grandparents to make sure you're not going to bring something dangerous onto a plane.

But looking at public social media posts for people seeking visas to enter the United States. Why, that's beyond the pale!

We now know that Tashfeen Malik, the female half of the couple responsible for the terrorist attack in San Bernardino that killed 14, had apparently openly discussed her desire to engage in violence against the United States on Facebook years ago. But these posts were not found by authorities until after the couple's violence. Malik was apparently already intending violence before she came to the United States.

So now the focus is on how Malik could have possibly been allowed into the United States. Why weren't her social media posts part of the routine analysis of her background check for her visa? According to ABC News, it's because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was afraid of bad publicity. No, really:

Fearing a civil liberties backlash and "bad public relations" for the Obama administration, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson refused in early 2014 to end a secret U.S. policy that prohibited immigration officials from reviewing the social media messages of all foreign citizens applying for U.S. visas, a former senior department official said.

"During that time period immigration officials were not allowed to use or review social media as part of the screening process," John Cohen, a former acting under-secretary at DHS for intelligence and analysis. Cohen is now a national security consultant for ABC News.

Apparently the DHS Office of Civil Liberties and the Office of Privacy (count me amazed that these two offices actually exist given how citizens are treated) had issues:

"The primary concern was that it would be viewed negatively if it was disclosed publicly and there were concerns that it would be embarrassing," Cohen said in an interview broadcast on "Good Morning America" today.

Cohen said he and others were deeply disappointed that the senior leadership would not approve a review of what were publicly-posted online messages.

"There is no excuse for not using every resource at our disposal to fully vet individuals before they come to the United States," Cohen said.

There is a "blame Snowden" dimension that we should be very reluctant to treat with any sort of credibility:

Cohen said the disclosures by Edward Snowden about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance policies fed concern of bad public relations that would affect the U.S. government's standing with civil rights groups and European allies.

"It was primarily a question of optics," said Cohen. "There were concerns from a privacy and civil liberties perspective that while this was not illegal, that it would be viewed negatively if it was disclosed publicly."

This has the stench of a straw man (and bureaucratic ass-covering). The outrage from Snowden's revelations, at least for most of the public, has been entirely over the collection of information by and about American citizens. There's been very little evidence that Americans believe that their own government should treat foreigners or potential visitors to the United States with the same expectations of privacy that it does citizens.

Certainly there are ways that government officials can violate the privacy of people on social media, like by making fake identities or posing as other people to try to "friend" others in order to see online posts that aren't public. And in this case, Malik was apparently using a pseudonym. She still might not have been found.

But that's not what's being argued here. Who exactly has argued that the federal government can't look at public social media posts of foreign travelers or potential immigrants? Even within the United States, law enforcement agencies troll social media looking for illegal rave parties and similar activities. This seems more like a branch of the federal government was unable to put appropriate policies into place and now wants to blame outside activists for its failures.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

54 responses to “Secret Watchlists and Body Searches: Yes. Social Media Post Reviews: No. Our DHS in Action.

  1. We have a vast network of computers watching everything the American citizen does, but it’s not for watching terrorists trying to kill us…that’d be silly. /Goverment of Derp

    1. Don’t you know there are more important things on their list? Like protecting us from scary Korean all girl rock bands? Why do you hate America?

      1. I will volunteer for the job of protecting us from all-girl K-Pop bands. It will be a hard, grueling job, requiring many hours of work in top-secret airport facilities, but I’ll do it, for my country.

        The danger they pose to our way of life cannot be overstated.

      2. And getting warrants would be, oh so, difficult!…(;-P

  2. afraid of bad publicity

    This is what billions in PR bought them.

  3. This Security Theater is turning into a tragedy.

    1. Tragedy tomorrow…Comedy tonight!

    2. Farce. It’s always been farce.

    3. It was always destined to.

  4. The president’s perpetual navel-gazing is reflected in stories like this.

  5. And what of their latest great idea, taking 2nd amendment rights away from people on the unconstitutional no-fly list. I guess the list is not unconstitutional enough already.

    Is there really anyone who hasn’t figured out what they are up to? They cannot win the war on guns through legislation. So they make up a list and put people on it, without any due process and no way for the person to even know why they are on the list and no due process to get off it. Then you just decree that the people who somehow wound up on this list cannot own guns. Perfectly slipppery slope. How to get around that pesky 2nd amendment in 2 easy steps. Put someone on list, remove their 2nd amendment rights. I have a feeling if they get away with this, about half of Americans are going to wind up on this list eventually.

    1. [Hands roll of tinfoil to Hyper] One of us…one of us…

      1. What conspiracy, Tonio? When I said half of Americans will wind up on the list, I only meant the scary teabagger types who own guns. Not the good and proper thinking people.

        1. Good and proper thinking people don’t buy guns anyway, since they know that the police are always there to save them.

          1. If no one owned guns except the cops, they’d be more willing to do their jobs and they wouldn’t have to shoot puppies, beat up grandma, and flash bang the chillins.

          2. hey, they’re only minutes away… when seconds count.

          3. In a mass attack, the police show up 5-10 minutes later to count the bodies. And then detain and search all of the surviving victims for several hours.

    2. Yeah, this is becoming the statist modus operandi: treat us to a pious lecture about “democracy” and how laws that are passed in Congress are sacred and to be obeyed without question or quibble–if the current occupant of the White House likes the law; but if the POTUS doesn’t like the law or can’t get his favored law through Congress then he’s somehow exempt from holy democracy and should just fucking do what he wants.

      1. It will admittedly be fun when a Republican wins the POTUS race and we get to hear the lamentations and wailings of the proggies about moving to Canada to follow their only remaining savior, the Zoolander.

        Nah, who am I kidding. The Stupid Party will blow it.

      2. to regurgitate a link from this morning warning of the proliferation of executive orders and that iron law me today, you tomorrow.

        http://www.nationalreview.com/…..cruz-trump

    3. And if you dare to question it, you get put on the list for being a terrorist sympathizer.

    4. Hyperion, I think everyone on both sides of the debate know exactly what they are up to. It won’t stand up to scrutiny by the courts. It is another plan of Obumbles that he will bumblefuck to death.

  6. The problem is that for every person who thinks ISIS is fabulous and goes out and does something horrible, there are three or four others who don’t ever do anything. So reading people’s FACEBOOK pages sounds effective but isn’t unless you are willing to go after anyone who voices support for terrorism.

    The reality is there is no way to “vet” Muslims coming into the country. There is no way to tell which of them are going to get hopped up on the Jihad and start shooting people and which ones won’t. Can be sure, however, that some of them will be violent and do something like this.

    The issue is not vetting. The issue is how many people have to die so that Muslims may freely immigrate to this country. That is a harsh way to put it sure. But it is reality.

    1. Well, the woman who participated in the recent terrorist attack went through the immigration process. They saw she wasn’t a member of a scary Korean rock band, so they let her in. Gotta have priorities, for the children.

      1. She didn’t look like a hooker, so what could possibly have been the problem?

        There is no way to keep radicals out of the country unless you just say no Muslim can come here. So the question is at what point does it get bad enough that you are willing to say that. Maybe it is never. Maybe it is right now. There is no right answer to that. It just depends on how much you value Muslims being able to immigrate and how much the various acts of Islamic terror that occur in this country bother you.

        It is really that simple.

        1. Well, they could if they could do their job. But they can’t, because political correctness won’t allow it.

          1. Yes. But even if they did do their job, it would still be impossible to tell which people were going to go crazy and which are not. And that difficulty doesn’t even account for the possibility that our enemies will get smarter and just make sure they don’t go on social media when they become radicals.

            I sympathize with the immigration people here. If they did go keep people out based on their social media posts, Reason and many others would be on here saying what evil meanies the government is for holding a few stray social media comments against someone.

        2. Even if you say “No Muslims can come here,” the ones who want to get in will.

          As an example I give you the Mexican population in Cali and Arizona, the Hatian population in South Florida, and all those Canadians everywhere.

          1. Sure. But it will be a lot more difficult. And if you find them, you don’t have to wait for them to do something before deporting them.

            The fact remains that if you want to allow Muslim immigration, you better figure on some of them being terrorists.

            1. a lot more difficult

              I guess you’ve never gone out on a small boat in t. Lauderdale on any weekend with nice weather. Thousands of small boats come and go every day with no screening. We essentially have an open coast, no matter how tall Trump builds his wall or how well the airports screen the incoming herds.

            2. You’ve got a great point. And while we’re at it, we should ban all guns. It will make it a lot more difficult for criminals to get them. And if you find someone with a gun, you don’t have to wait for them to commit a crime. Just throw them in prison.

              The fact remains that if you want to allow guns, you’d better figure on some of those guns getting into the hands of criminals.

              You’ve convinced me. We need to ban and confiscate all guns. It’s the only way to be safe.

              1. You can use guns to stop someone attacking you, but you can’t use immigrants so it’s not the same thing at all. There’s no equivalence here.

                1. Human shields, dude.

              2. but chef’s knives, carpenters’ claw hammers, and cricket bats. Oh yes, NEVEr forget the harm an experienced batsman can do with an off the shelf cricket bat.

        3. So you can write violent ‘hadi crap, Just make sure to wear a potato sack to so you don’t get mistaken for a hooker?

          After all, they’re the real danger.

    2. So, we have to keep out all Muslims, because keeping out only people that openly love ISIS would be discriminatory?

      1. No. You could keep the ones who openly love ISIS out. I am just not sure that would help much since there is no way to tell which ones will decide to love ISIS after they get in or how long before ISIS gets smart and tells its supporters to stop being so obvious.

        1. “By Allah at least scrape the “my other car is a truck bomb” sticker off your Buick.”

        2. What about people who decide to become Muslims after immigrating to the US? What about people who are Secret Muslims? How is banning overt Muslims more effective than banning overt terrorists? It seems like you’re thinking magically here.

      2. So Rand Paul was right — the fedgov should shut down immigration until it reviews the procedures.

    3. You don’t have to “go after” them. In this case, they’re asking US for something.

      “I see you declared yourself committed to jihad against America. No visa for you.”

      Easy peasy.

  7. the DHS Office of Civil Liberties and the Office of Privacy (count me amazed that these two offices actually exist given how citizens are treated)

    Don’t you recall the Ministry of Love and the Ministry of Truth, Scott? Must I explain *everything*?

  8. “Apparently the DHS Office of Civil Liberties and the Office of Privacy (count me amazed that these two offices actually exist given how citizens are treated) had issues:”

    C’mon Scott, You really shouldn’t be surprised at all. The name of the government agency only tells you what subject the office deals with. It says nothing about weather the office is pro or con on the issue. These names come from politicians and bureaucrats so you have to parse every single word. And, a name to these people is usually counter-intuitive to it’s function, Ya know, for transparency.

    1. Right. Just as the “Drug Enforcement Agency” actually enforces drug laws (rather than drugs themselves, as the name implies).

  9. “Old-fashioned blame shifting”?

    Silly man – blame shifting never goes out of fashion.

    It is perpetually on the cutting edge of fashion.

  10. It should be made illegal to judge people by what they twit out on the internet.

  11. The Bill of Rights restricts what the US federal government can do to anyone, so there is no distinction in due process and privacy rights between citizens and non-citizens. But social media posts are public record. Not screening them for potential immigrants is stupid, and has nothing to do with Snowden revealing that the federal government was illegally spying on people and threatening companies to provide private information without a warrant.

  12. Just to be unpopular, I support the right of American men to bring their foreign wives into the country, and of American women (now that they no longer lose their nationality on marrying a foreign man) to bring their foreign husbands into the country.

    I think this is part of the 9th Amendment.

    If the woman issued actual threats online, then arrest her and prosecute her. Her connection to an actual American citizen means she can’t be forced to wait in an immigration line like foreigners who lack connections to this country.

    1. I’d agree 100%….. the K Visa is a path of misery fraught with obstacles. I know a few who have trod it. And some of those failed. One had to move to South America to be with her legitimate Brasiliain husband. They would not let him here, no he had to adverse record, they verified everything he’d dubmitted on his application. Her family spent thousands over a year or more and she got fed up with the insanity and moved to Brasil to be with her husband. Insane….

      That said, I have NO PROBLEM with said wife/fianc?e being carefully vetted. And reading publicallly available social media is NOT out of line. Hey, can’t we all do that to some extent already? The oathway for am American citizen to bring a spouse back to this country, or anintended spouse in so they can marry and settle here should be simple, not onerous and confusing, clear and not changing the rules between every visit to the immigration officials. Hey, if I were wanting to marry someone from Timbuktu I’d surely be “vetting” her myself, and using things like facebook to learn more.

  13. But looking at public social media posts for people seeking visas to enter the United States. Why, that’s beyond the pale!

    I’m sure that the very real threat the Security Theater State poses to all of us and our liberty, will never outweigh the costs.

  14. Malik was apparently already intending violence before she came to the United States.

    This is what they found??? In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, she posted a remark on Facebook beside a photo of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center that could be interpreted as anti-American.

    Is Ward Churchill a member of ISIS? 75% of the comments on this site could be interpreted as American; I am not sure how much of this story I believe. It is way too long on trusting agents of the government to be telling the truth. If her goal was to kill as many heathens as possible before dying in a conflagration she didn’t get much of a bang for her buck.

  15. DHS is, in my opinion, a very bad, not to mention very expensive joke on the American public, said joke perpetrated and run by our elected things.

  16. Unfortunately, whenever some department has a policy that seems ludicrous on the face of it, the bureaucrats clam up and cover for each other so there is no accountability. No one is blamed or fired or loses their bonus. This policy was obviously put in place so no one would have to be embarrassed if it was revealed that we were actually doing some due diligence on vetting the people coming into the country during a war.

    You’ll never find out the name of the moron in the State dept. who thought it would locate terrorists among prospective immigrants and visitors by asking questions like: Are you a terrorist? Do you belong to any organization that is on the terrorist list? Do you plan to commit an act of terror in the United States?

    And the sad part is that government employees now make more money than their counterparts employed in business in the real economy.

  17. One “rule” I’ve had quoted to me as I’ve crossed back into the USA after being gone to somewhere else is that, upon presenting one’s self to the border inspection facility and personnel, ;you waive ALL rights until you are cleared. Anything you have with you, any records they can access,if they want to go through computers, phones, etc, download and/or record files, they can. Foreigners, even more so. That is the ONE PLACE where they CAN pull out all the stops, and dig as deeply and for as long as they think is appropriate. And in the case of this female, they failed, utterly. Since the attack, the conexions BOTH of them had with a certain islamic school (branches all across the world) known for radical jihadi training and preparation… both had attended, in different places and at different times. This was before they met. Ya’d think the guys charged with “repelling foreign invaders” would be able to put things iike that together when they’re “carefully” amd “meticulously” examining an individual’s history to determine whether to allow that one to become a permananent resident here. To do less…. is to ensure more such attacks.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.