A press release last week from Unisys gives a disturbing glimpse into the extent to which border guards — possibly including US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other components of the US Department of Homeland Security — are making decisions on the basis of automated “pre-crime” predictions of future bad actions or bad intentions.
Unisys describes its “LineSight” (TM) product as,
[N]ew software that uses advanced data analytics and machine learning to … enable border agents to make … on-the-spot decisions about whether to trigger closer inspection of travelers … before admitting them into a country…. The solution [sic] uses advanced targeting algorithms to continuously ingest and analyze high volumes of data from multiple sources and to flag potential threats in near real time. For travelers crossing borders, LineSight assesses risk from the initial intent to travel and refines that risk assessment as more information becomes available – beginning with a traveler’s visa application to travel, reservation, ticket purchase, seat selection, check-in and arrival.
Think about what this means: This is not a tool for investigation of illegal conduct or prosecution of people who have committed crimes. It presumes that government agencies will be sufficiently deeply embedded in travel industry infrastructure and have the surveillance capability to know as soon as you form an “initial intent to travel”. It’s being marketed to government agencies as a “pre-crime” system alleged to have “pre-cognitive” ability to predict intentions and future actions, and to generate its own algorithms for doing so:
“Many legacy border security solutions identify potentially risky travelers and cargo based on previously known threats – which is kind of like driving a car and only using your rear view mirror,” said Mark Forman, global head of Unisys Public Sector….
LineSight does not depend solely on pre-defined pattern matching rules; it also includes predictive analytics and machine learning that allow the system to learn from experience and automatically generate new rules and algorithms to continuously improve assessment accuracy over time.
Decisions about which travelers should be subjected to more intrusive searches should be be made on the basis of probable cause to believe that crimes have been committed, not on the basis of fantasies of “pre-cognitive” pre-crime prediction.
It’s wrong to delegate judicial decisions to administrative agencies, wrong to further delegate those decisions to software ‘bots, and wrong to set those robots loose to make up their own rules to govern whch individuals are subjected to searches or other sanctions.
Unisys doesn’t say whether CBP or other DHS components or US government agencies are among the customers for this product, which agencies in other countries are using or planning to use it, or which have helped fund its development. But Unisys boasts of providing systems like this to governments around the worls, including the US:
In addition to its border security work for U.S. Customs and Border Protection assessing travelers and cargo crossing into the U.S., Unisys designed and built the biometrics framework and applications used by Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection in cooperation with other countries and agencies to identity visa applicants and fight visa fraud. Unisys also supports the European Commission and new EU member states with the Schengen Information System and related visa information systems.
The LIneSight (TM) pre-crime traveler profiling module is part of a suite of Unisys surveillance and data mining tools for use by border guards and other police:
Digital Investigator is part of Unisys’ portfolio of Safe Cities solutions that also include LineSight™ for advanced targeting analytics related to border security; Unisys Stealth® for advanced security through micro-segmentation as well as identity management; the Unisys Law Enforcement Message Switch for enabling users to easily access disparate information from various federal and state criminal justice information systems; and the Secure Image Management Solution for capturing and aggregating stills imagery, video, audio, multimedia and disk images.
No new CBP contract award was announced in conjunction with the availability of Unisys’ new pre-crime software. But it could be part of the umbrella purchase order for Integrated Traveler Initiatives (ITI) awarded to Unisys in 2016 and reportedly valued at $230 million “if all options are exercized”, according to a CBP spokesperson at the time.
IVI is part of the even larger larger EAGLE II “multiple-award indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract”.
The Extreme Vetting Initiative is reportedly being developed within pre-existing blanket contracts and open purchase orders such as these. This speeds contracting with pre-approved vendors and reduces the transparency that would be associated with separate contracts.
We’ll be looking closely for traces of Unisys and “LineSight” in the response to our Freedom Of Information Act request for DHS and CBP records about “Extreme Vetting”.