PHOTO: Donald Trump's administration eyes extreme vetting changes at the border. (photo via Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Donald Trump has vowed to take travel vetting to extreme levels.
Presumably, it’s because "extreme" sounds better than "nuanced" or "sophisticated" when fighting terrorism. Also, because when it comes to the incessant threat of the unthinkable, one approach is to throw everything including the kitchen sink at the problem, no matter how far-reaching the solution.
The Wall Street Journal pulls back the curtain on the vague term and shows travelers what’s in store for those coming to these shores if the administration moves forward on a vetting process that asks visitors to divulge just about all the information they have on their person.
The publication’s Laura Meckler explains an intense vetting process is quickly beginning to take shape and may affect those visitors who are here “even for a short trip.”
At its most extensive, foreign entry would include things like divulging passwords on phones, handing over full lists of contacts, revealing to officials any social media accounts they hold and the passwords for those accounts and, as Meckler explains it, “probing questions about their ideology.”
When it comes to refugees, vetting has been, depending on your point of view, extreme for some time. The New York Times, in January, laid out the 20-point process migrants face as they enter the United States.
This new process, however, is part of the currently stalled travel ban 2.0 signed last month by President Trump.
As WSJ explains, Hawaii became the first state to legally challenge that ban. However, as Meckler writes, “the work to enhance vetting procedures was allowed to proceed.”
At the time, the administration explained that its reach was more limited in scope than this WSJ report would suggest.
TravelPulse’s Patrick Clarke cites White House adviser Kellyanne Conway who previously explained, “If you have travel docs, if you actually have a visa, if you are a legal permanent resident, you are not covered under this particular executive action.”
READ MORE: Donald Trump Donates Initial Salary to National Parks
However, the report suggests a far more widespread policy change at the nation’s border than the above quote would imply. There have also have been a few instances of travelers running up against stringent vetting before the latest travel ban was signed.
Back in February, a U.S.-born JPL scientist was forced to unlock his phone for border agents while a Canadian Muslim recently explained that she underwent a religious line of questioning at the border.
Meckler explains Homeland Security’s plan is to widen the scope to “all visa applicants, including visitors, refugees and others seeking to immigrate.”
It may even include travelers in the Visa Waiver Program.
Gene Hamilton, senior counsel to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, is quoted as saying, “If there is any doubt about a person’s intentions coming to the United States, they should have to overcome – really and truly prove to our satisfaction – that they are coming for legitimate reasons.”
Important questions need to be answered: How might phones be examined? And how sophisticated is the screening process? Is there a nearby computer that will scour every last vestige of data? Will this information be stored and examined as new information surfaces in regards to terror threats?
And consider, for a moment, how guarded you are in divulging your own passwords to friends, let alone strangers you meet at the border of a foreign country.
Recent reports signal that outlets such as U.S. Travel and ASTA point to an adverse effect this administration has had on travel to the United States. It might not be that far of a leap to assume many more visitors will steer clear of the United States if it means opening up every last vestige of their valued privacy.
There may, however, be merit to some of these practices. While the DHS failed to follow up on a study of social media screening, some point to the value of screening phones for ties to any terror groups.
These steps presumably work if the hypothetical terror threat isn’t the least bit savvy in maintaining their privacy.
Meckler spoke with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official Leon Rodriguez who pointed to the greatest issue facing this entire procedure: “The real bad guys will get rid of their phones. They’ll show up with a clean phone. Over time, the utility of the exercise will diminish.”
READ MORE: Trump Policies Have Travel Industry Slashing Prices
In the interim, thousands will have their privacy voided at the border, essentially destroying a level of comfort afforded many who seek out refuge or pleasure when visiting this country.
But visitors’ comfort apparently outweighs American safety.
While that is assumedly acceptable to many within the United States, there are still major issues with a vetting process that would violate privacy, enact unproven methods in singling out threats and, possibly, see the rise of similar policies at the borders of other countries welcoming Americans.
Quite possibly, this would mean a dramatic decrease in tourism with not the least bit of measurable efficacy in officials’ fight on terror.