John Kelly

John Kelly, United States Secretary of Homeland Security

The Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, was questioned about the Muslim ban by the House Homeland Security Committee when he revealed some information about an unexpected strategy under consideration; demanding passwords of US visa applicants.

He was questioned about “increased and enhanced use of social media to track potential terrorists” and about how “social media profiles could be linked to visa applicants” by using “publicly available data” by Louisiana congressman Clay Higgins.

Higgins shared his opinion about how Obama’s government had not done much in this regard. In response, Kelly said they want access to social media with passwords. While scanning through social media profiles and browser histories of immigrants was proposed earlier by Kelly during a press conference late last month, the addition of passwords is a surprising new twist.

When asked about how he would use the publicly available information, he proposed the complete disclosure of online activities instead like it would be the same thing. Kelly’s understanding of the internet seemed limited and his statements prove that he does not consider that immigrants deserve digital rights. He bluntly stated, “If they don’t want to give us the information, then they don’t come.”

Social profiles are easy to fake, browser histories could be manipulated and law enforcement officials have had issues investigating the online activities of individuals before. The investigation of the FBI into GamerGate revealed that the agency was perplexed by simple countermeasures such as the use of proxies. However, we do not know if DHS would be employing more advanced tactics.

Confiscation of phones and coerced password inputs were reported for some affected by the Muslim ban by Trump, a move that was criticized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This ban was frozen by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, though the decision is being contested by the administration. However, Kelly casually spoke about consideration of access to profiles and computers by saying, “even if we don’t get out from under the court order.” Until now, Trump’s administration has not been that keen on due process and it is unlikely that his stance on “extreme vetting” would be any different.

It has already been reported that a US-born NASA employee, Sidd Bikkannavar, was detained at the border and pressured into giving up his phone and access PIN after a trip to South America. It is not known what information was found or how it may have been used.