Nov 16 2017

“Extreme Vetting” would be a #PreCrime #DigitalMuslimBan

Today The Identity Project joined 55 other civil rights, civil liberties, government accountability, human rights, immigrant rights, and privacy organizations in calling on the US Department of Homeland Security to abandon its Extreme Vetting Initiative.

The essential goal of the DHS Extreme Vetting Initiative is to extend the bogus “pre-crime” prediction algorithms and methods based on “big data” from suspicionless mass surveillance, already being used by the DHS and its partner agencies in the US and abroad to decide who is allowed to board airplanes, to a broader range of decisions about who is allowed to travel to, or reside or remain in, the US.

But the DHS doesn’t have any “pre-cogs”, human or robotic, to make these predictions. And prior restraint of our movements or other activities based on predictions of future criminality is not only impossible (and inherently subject to abuse by those who create the predictive and decision-making algorithms) but an affront to fundamental notions of justice, due process, and human rights.

According to a joint letter we sent today to the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Elaine Duke:

We write to express our opposition to Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s proposed new Extreme Vetting Initiative, which aims to use automated decision-making, machine learning, and social media monitoring to assist in vetting of visa applicants and to generate leads for deportation. As it is described in ICE documents, this program would be ineffective and discriminatory. It would also pose a signal threat to freedom of speech and assembly, civil liberties, and civil and human rights. We urge the Department of Homeland Security to abandon this effort….

The goal of the Extreme Vetting Initiative is to “develop processes that determine and evaluate an applicant’s probability of becoming a positively contributing member of society as well as their ability to contribute to national interests,” using analytic capabilities including machine learning.  ICE also seeks to “develop a mechanism/methodology that allows [the agency] to assess whether an applicant intends to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.”

In reality, as a group of prominent technologists advised in a recent letter, “no computational methods can provide reliable or objective assessments of the traits that ICE seeks to measure.” There is no definition anywhere in American law of what it means to be a “positively contributing member of society” or to “contribute to national interests,” posing a risk that ICE will exercise maximal latitude to discriminate beneath the cover of an unproven algorithm….

Confirming that ICE’s focus is on quantity rather than quality, the agency has announced that the winning vendor for the Extreme Vetting Initiative contract must “generate a minimum of 10,000 investigative leads annually” – without regard to how many leads are actually appropriate….

The Extreme Vetting Initiative will also undoubtedly chill free expression, contravening the First Amendment and international human rights, such as those contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for which the United States has registered official support, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the U.S. is a party… These risks are particularly acute in light of existing initiatives to ask travelers to identify all of their social media handles in order to obtain permission to travel to the United States….

Through the Extreme Vetting Initiative, ICE seeks to automate the process by which the U.S. government targets, finds, and forcibly removes people from our country…. But this system … risks hiding politicized, discriminatory decisions behind a veneer of objectivity – at great cost to freedom of speech, civil liberties, civil rights, and human rights.

Palantir Technologies has already become a target of criticism for its role in building tools for “extreme vetting”. (See our report from a protest outside the home of Palantir founder Peter Thiel earlier this year, and this recent 10-minute video, “Is Silicon Valley Building the Infrastructure for a Police State? New AI tools could empower the government to violate our civil liberties.“)  Now IBM, which attended a recent outreach day for Extreme Vetting Initiative contractors and has declined to distance itself from bidding to build the pre-crime program, is also being targeted by a petition asking IBM to “back up your verbal support of immigrants by publicly rejecting and denouncing the Extreme Vetting Initiative and pledge to not bid on any contract to build the tool.”

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