National Security

House passes bill on combating terrorists on social media

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The House passed legislation on Wednesday requiring the president to provide Congress with a strategy for combating terrorists’ use of social media.

The measure, approved by voice vote, would mandate a report from the president within six months with a comprehensive strategy to disrupt terrorist organizations’ social media use and online radicalization efforts, as well as a separate report in a shorter timeframe evaluating training programs for law enforcement personnel.

“We must first have a strategy before we can effectively defeat this enemy on every battlefield, including the cyber battlefield,” said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), the bill’s author. 

{mosads}Messages promoting terrorism violate rules governing use of social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Companies such as Twitter already work with law enforcement to identify and shut down accounts and posts threatening terrorism as they investigate reports of rule violations.

Passage of the bill comes after an ABC News report this week that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson opted against ending a policy preventing officials from reviewing visa applicants’ social media accounts.

The State Department does occasionally review visa applicants’ social media accounts while conducting the screening process along with the Department of Homeland Security.

“It is routine for our consular officers to be able to examine social media presence when they feel it can round out and put a little bit more flesh on the bone of the information and the context that they’re trying to gain about people when applying for visas,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters this week.

Senate Democrats sent a letter to Johnson on Tuesday urging the Obama administration to consider reviewing visa applicant’s social media accounts as part of the vetting process. 

“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 25 senators wrote. 

U.S. officials had previously said that Tashfeen Malik, one of the shooters responsible for the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif. this month that killed 14 people, had posted on Facebook indicating support for the Islamic State, something that multiple security checks failed to find. 

But FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday that neither of the two shooters expressed support for jihad publicly. Instead, Comey said the shooters indicated support in private messages dating back to 2013.

This story was updated at 12:39 p.m.

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