Hours after a truck driver mowed down eight cyclists, in what is being called the first deadly attack in New York since the 11 September, 2001 strikes, United States president Donald Trump said that he had ordered more robust "extreme vetting" of travellers coming into the country.
"I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!" Trump said on Twitter.
I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017
The president's attempts at banning travellers from several, mainly Muslim, nations have been met with successive legal challenges. His administration has announced that it would resume accepting refugees after a 120-day ban, though arrivals from 11 "high-risk" countries, most of them home to Muslim majorities, will still be blocked.
Last week, global airlines began implementing security interviews for US-bound travellers before checking in for flights.
What is extreme vetting?
As a presidential candidate, Trump had repeatedly pledged to bar entry to refugees fleeing war-torn Iraq and Syria. He had called for "a total and complete shutdown" of Muslim immigration to the US, a proposal that was met with widespread condemnation across political parties.
"We are establishing new vetting measures, to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America," The Guardian quoted Trump in January, "We don’t want ’em here. We want to ensure we aren’t admitting into our country the very threats that our men and women are fighting overseas."
The US president in June had tweeted that the US authorities are carrying out extreme vetting on people coming into the country.
In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017
White House Chief of Staff John F Kelly defined "extreme vetting" as verifying identities of travellers moving into the United States, The Washington Post reported.
"Extreme vetting is, we simply interview people and have to satisfy ourselves that the person we’re talking to is indeed the person who they claim," the report quoted Kelly as saying. "It might be impossible to do in some cases."
Kelly added, "If we can't verify, I don't think we should let them into the country."
How does the process work?
While the first signs of extreme vetting appeared in January when Trump signed an executive order titled "Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States", the excercise did not stop with the initial ban (which was blocked by the courts) on travel of citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia into the US.
Tourists from the UK and other countries visiting the US could also be forced to reveal mobile phone contacts, social media passwords and financial data under extreme vetting practices considered by the Trump administration, The Wall Street Journal reported. These tourists could also face questions over their ideology.
The measures might include visitors from the 38 countries — the UK, France, Australia and Japan, among them — which participate in a visa waiver programme, which requires adherence to strict US standards in data sharing, passport control and other factors, the report quoted an official as saying.
The aim is to "figure out who you are communicating with", a senior homeland security official was quoted as saying. "What you can get on the average person’s phone can be invaluable."
The New York Times reported that diplomatic cables sent by Rex Tillerson to US embassies around the world instructed consular officials to step up security, but these rules did not apply to citizens of the 38 countries under the visa waiver programme.
The Trump administration's measures provoked a swift backlash from human rights and civil liberties groups, with some critics alleging that extreme vetting was "un-American" and it actually undermines national security.
A joint statement by a few organisations in response to these proposals said, "This proposal would enable border officials to invade people’s privacy by examining years of private emails, texts, and messages."
"It would expose travelers and everyone in their social networks, including potentially millions of US citizens, to excessive, unjustified scrutiny. And it would discourage people from using online services or taking their devices with them while traveling, and would discourage travel for business, tourism and journalism."
Updated Date: Nov 01, 2017 11:36 AM