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Senate Democrats want the administration to hand over details of its background check process for visas to enter the U.S., suggesting that applicants' use of social media should be scrutinized as a routine part of vetting.
Twenty-five senators sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson on Tuesday, saying they have "deep concern" that social media accounts have largely been left out of the visa screening process and asserting that this could lead to the failure to identify "critical background information."
"We believe these checks, focused on possible connections to terrorist activity, should be incorporated into DHS’s vetting process for visa determinations, and that this policy should be implemented as soon as possible," the senators wrote.
ABC News reported earlier this month that Johnson decided against ending a policy blocking officials from reviewing social media accounts for visa applicants. An official told ABC News that while the department had started pilot programs on including social media in vetting, the programs were not widespread.
The senators are asking Johnson to hand over any plans to include social media in the vetting process for all visas, and also to clarify whether there are any technological barriers to including social media in vetting. They also want to know whether the administration currently checks social media accounts for any of its visa applications.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters that department officials, who help screen visa applicants along with DHS, occasionally reviews applicants’ social media accounts.
Lawmakers have honed in on the visa process, including a separate Visa Waiver Program, in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and California.
U.S. officials said that Tashfeen Malik, one of the shooters in San Bernardino, Calif., posted a message on Facebook declaring allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) before carrying out the attack. Malik also reportedly had a longer history of posting messages under a pseudonym that expressed support for waging jihad.
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- This story was updated at 6:41 p.m.
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