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Source: Kelly Weill

The Trump administration’s call for “extreme vetting” has immigration officials seeking an automated process that can scrape through immigrants’ personal information and digital histories. But civil rights groups say that means turning over the immigration process to an algorithm that would be a technical and ethical nightmare.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is seeking tech firms to build an “overarching vetting contract that automates, centralizes and streamlines the current manual vetting process.” Specifically, ICE seeks to determine potential immigrants risk for terrorism and potential to be a “contributing member of society.”

ICE says its overtures to tech companies are nothing unusual.

“The Department of Homeland Security is tasked with protecting national security by vetting visa applicants to prevent terrorists and criminals from entering the U.S. and ensuring nonimmigrant aliens comply with the terms of their admission to the U.S,” an ICE spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “The request for information on this initiative was simply that – an opportunity to gather information from industry professionals and other government agencies on current technological capabilities to determine the best way forward.”

But such a program would be a discriminatory disaster, over 100 technology experts and civil liberties groups said in two letters to the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday.

An algorithm-based vetting process has real issues. So few immigrants have committed acts of terrorism, that a computer program couldn’t even generate an accurate predictive model, the coalition of tech experts from some of the U.S.’s top universities and research groups says.

“There is a wealth of literature demonstrating that even the ‘best’ automated decision-making models generate an unacceptable number of errors when predicting rare events. On the scale of the American population and immigration rates, criminal acts are relatively rare, and terrorist acts are extremely rare,” their letter to DHS states. “As a result, even the most accurate possible model would generate a very large number of false positives.”


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