True story: I saw that write-up this weekend about DHS not bothering to check visa applicants’ social media before admitting them to the U.S. and tweeted that it seems strange that the NSA can crunch gigantic amounts of non-public metadata from billions of people to find terrorists but can’t write an algorithm flagging keywords like “ISIS” or “jihad” in public postings by the small population who’ve applied to visit the United States. To which a Twitter pal, channeling left-libertarian groupthink superbly, replied without missing a beat, “Is that the kind of world you want to live in?”
A world where foreigners who declare their love for ISIS don’t gain the privilege — not the right, the privilege — to see America? You know what: I think I could survive fairly happily in that world.
And so can a lot of other people, apparently, given how quickly DHS is now moving to fix this.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is working on a plan to scrutinize social media posts as part of its visa application process before certain people are allowed entry into the nation, a person familiar with the matter said…
Currently, DHS only looks at these postings intermittently and as part of three pilot programs that began in earnest earlier this year. It’s unclear how quickly a new process could be implemented, and other details couldn’t be learned…
The pilot programs currently used by DHS do not sweep up all social media posts, though government officials have kept details of the programs closely held, as they do not want to reveal the precise process they use to try and identify potential threats.
Gotta give O and his team credit. It might take them six years to implement the sort of basic counterterror good practices that a reasonably intelligent fourth-grader might come up with, but they’ll get around to it eventually.
Three obvious points here. One: Once the word on the new policy is out, aspiring terrorists with an eye on coming to the U.S. obviously will be more restrained on Twitter and Facebook. Not always, though — one of the amazing features of the social-media age is how willing people are to share even when it might damage them to do so. And even if some would-be jihadis do clam up, that has its benefits too. That’s a little less pro-terror propaganda floating around out there to influence others. Two: There will inevitably be hard cases as this policy is applied and that’ll force a backlash in the other direction. For instance, someone from Pakistan will apply for a visa and DHS will find out that he once tweeted, “My country is awash with the blood of innocents spilled by America’s murderous drone strikes.” You want to roll the dice on letting that guy in? He hasn’t said anything about violent reprisals, and many people here at home would agree with his point. Does he forfeit his visa privilege for leveling what’s actually a pretty mainstream critique of American foreign policy? How about someone who tweets, “The Jew is the cancer of the world”? I don’t want that guy around, but the point of the policy supposedly is to bar people who present a violent threat, not garden-variety scumbags. Even scumbags’ tourist dollars can help the economy. Eventually DHS will go the wrong way on a tough question like this and there’ll be a media outcry and the policy will be revisited. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be put in place now, of course.
Three: The fact that DHS waited this long to chase this very basic form of public data-mining of visitors shows how powerful the political class’s empathy for immigrants, more so than their American constituents, is. Ace and his co-bloggers made that same point today. Whenever you’re being lectured by a Democrat or Republican about immigration, odds are two things are true: The cost to the immigrant, not to the United States, is the core consideration, and that cost is portrayed in strikingly personal, relatable ways compared to the way the potential cost to Americans is. You want a stronger border? Well, if you were born somewhere else, wouldn’t you do everything you could to come to this amazing country? Do you have any idea what sort of hardship someone in country X might endure? Put yourself in their shoes. As for the 55-year-old American worker who’s lost his job of 20 years to cheaper immigrant labor and is now being told to learn a new trade, we shouldn’t put ourselves in his shoes but rather we should think in the abstract about the net job growth and economic dynamism that mass immigration will supposedly provide writ large. When you’re used to thinking that way it makes sense that you’d pause before scrutinizing a visa applicant’s social media. Would you want some government apparatchik sifting through everything you’ve posted on Twitter just because we’re a little worried these days about visitors shooting up conference rooms full of people in tribute to ISIS? Put yourself in their shoes. The visitors, I mean, not the people bleeding to death on the conference-room floor.
Oh, by the way: Angela Merkel, the world’s foremost spokesperson for putting yourself in the shoes of migrants, announced today that she intends to “drastically” reduce the number of refugees who’ll be allowed to enter Germany. How she thinks she’s going to stop this conveyor belt now that it’s begun, I have no idea.