Wave of Legislation Emerging to Counter Use of Social Media for Terrorism

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The recent terrorist attack in San Bernadino—during which one of the attackers pledged allegiance to the radical Islamic terror group ISIS on Facebook— has spurred a wave of legislative activity regarding the use of social media for terrorist purposes.

One week after the attack, in which a husband and wife murdered 14 people, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced legislation to require technology companies such as Facebook and Twitter Inc. to report online terrorist activity to law enforcement.

After the attack, reports emerged that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security didn’t review the social media posts of the wife before she was granted a “fiancée visa” to enter the U.S. The woman, Tashfeen Malik, was the attacker who pledged to ISIS during the attack, a post Facebook identified and took down.

Meanwhile, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) announced Dec. 14 that his committee is working on legislation requiring federal officials to review publicly available information, including social media accounts, during the visa screening process.  Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced similar legislation Dec. 15.

President Obama directed DHS and the U.S. Department of State to undertake a review of the fiancé visa process. These agencies have formed a working group to examine ways in which they can expand the use of social media vetting, according to a DHS fact sheet published Dec. 17.   

The House has already passed a bill requiring the president to transmit a report to Congress on U.S. strategy to combat the use of social media for terrorism.

Three days after Goodlatte announced his committee’s efforts, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing to examine the screening process for foreign nationals, including the ability to review social media as part of that process.

Ironically, a provision requiring the reporting of online terrorist activity was dropped from the 2016 Intelligence Authorization Act so that the bill could move forward. In light of recent events, perhaps Feinstein’s stand-alone bill will have a better chance.