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DHS's Constant Vetting Initiative: a Muslim-Ban by Algorithm

Monday, March 12, 2018

DHS's Constant Vetting Initiative: a Muslim-Ban by Algorithm  

"Late last week, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) wrote to the Department of Homeland Security, urging it to stop ICE’s “Extreme Vetting Initiative,” saying that the program would “unfairly target the minority communities [the CBC] represent[s].” The initiative – now relabeled “Visa Lifecycle Vetting” –  is an effort to develop an automated system to continuously monitor visitors and immigrants to the United States by looking at what they say, including on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Among other things, the system is meant to predict whether a traveler will be a “positively contributing member of society” and “contribute to national interests” (broad criteria drawn from Trump’s blatantly discriminatory first Muslim ban order). It is required to generate a minimum of 10,000 annual investigative leads.

The CBC’s letter is timely: after sounding out potential contractors about the technical feasibility of such a program last summer, ICE just published an acquisition forecast that indicates it intends to go forward with spending $100 million on the project. It is likely to be money wasted. As 54 leading technologists pointed out in a letter to DHS, no algorithm can make judgments about such subjective matters as who will make a positive contribution to society (which in any event seems irrelevant for people who, for example, just want to visit Disneyland). Nor can a computer predict in any reliable way if a person intends to commit a terrorist attack, which occur too rarely to allow for an accurate forecast. Instead, as is the case with other predictive algorithms, such a venture will inevitably resort to using proxies that reflect the biases of programmers, with minority communities left most impacted..."

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