Screeners were barred from checking visa applicants' social media posts, because DHS "fear[ed] a civil liberties backlash and 'bad public relations'"


So ABC News (Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz, James Gordon Meek & Josh Margolin) reported yesterday:

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

"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.

One current and one former senior counter-terrorism official confirmed Cohen's account about the refusal of DHS to change its policy about the public social media posts of all foreign applicants.

A spokesperson for the DHS, Marsha Catron, told ABC News that months after Cohen left, in the fall of 2014, the Department began three pilot programs to include social media in vetting, but current officials say that it is still not a widespread policy. A review of the broader policy is already underway, the DHS said.

I don't know much time and effort screeners can invest in these sorts of background checks, given the sheer volume of applications; and I therefore don't know how cost-effective social media reviews are likely to be. But I do think that "civil liberties" and "public relations" concerns are quite misplaced here, when the issue has to do with evaluating public posts by foreign visa applicants.

Many of you have likely already heard about this on the news, but I thought I'd mention it just in case, and also offer a place where our commenters can discuss this.