John Kelly, the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, testified that foreign travelers coming to the United States could be required to give up social media passwords to border officials as a condition of entry.
“We want to say, for instance, which websites do you visit, and give us your passwords, so we can see what they do on the internet,” he said at a Feb. 7 House Homeland Security hearing, his first congressional hearing since his Senate confirmation. “If they don’t want to give us that information, they don’t come in.”
Kelly noted that while this was “still a work in progress” and not necessarily “what we’re going to do right now,” he added that President Donald Trump’s freeze on entry to the U.S. by citizens of seven countries, “is giving us an opportunity… to get more serious than we have been about how we look at people coming into the United States.”
“These are the things we’re thinking about,” he said. “We can ask them for this kind of information, and if they truly want to come into America, then they’ll cooperate. If not, you know, next in line.”
DHS has already announced plans to seek social media data from travelers visiting the U.S. under the visa waiver program. That plan, first floated in June 2016, would authorize data collection of social media identifiers from travelers on the visa waiver program, which allows for visa-free travel by passport holders of more than 30 countries, mostly long-established U.S. allies and trading partners. Requesting passwords, as contemplated by Gen. Kelly, would be a more intensive form of social media vetting.
Kelly also took responsibility for the mismanaged rollout of Trump’s freeze, saying he should have delayed it “a day or two… so I could have talked to members of Congress.”
Kelly also provided an update on plans to construct a wall across the border with Mexico.
Without providing details on funding, Kelly said he would like to see aerostats, as well as improved “sensors on the ground” to track movement along the border, and expected the project to be “well underway within two years.”
“Some of the sensors are really kind of 1980s technology,” he said. “There’s better equipment on the market today, so we’re going to take a long, hard look at that.”
Kelly also said that he does “not believe” DHS will receive the 5,000 border patrol employees and the 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees, as laid out in Trump’s executive order, in the next few years.
The secretary said he would rather “get fewer” officers than lower standards. “We will add to the ranks as fast as we can, but we will not lower standards or training,” Kelly said.