Tech Experts Blast ‘Extreme Vetting’ AI Plan as Biased, Inaccurate

Leading researchers castigated a federal plan that would use artificial intelligence methods to scrutinize immigrants and visa applicants, saying it is unworkable as written and likely to be "inaccurate and biased" if deployed.

The experts, a group of more than 50 computer and data scientists, mathematicians and other specialists in automated decision-making, urged the Department of Homeland Security to abandon the project, dubbed the "Extreme Vetting Initiative."

That plan has its roots in President Donald Trump's repeated pledge during the 2016 campaign to subject immigrants seeking admission to the United States to more intense ideological scrutiny -- or, as he put it, "extreme vetting ."

Over the summer, DHS published a "statement of objectives " for a system that would use computer algorithms to scan social media and other material in order to automatically flag undesirable entrants -- and to continuously scan the activities of those allowed into the U.S.

The goal, that document stated, was to let computers help determine whether an immigrant "intends to commit criminal or terrorist acts," as well as their likelihood of becoming a "positively contributing member of society."

In a joint letter to DHS on Thursday, the dissenting researchers called that approach "neither appropriate nor feasible."

Background of the Plan

In the document, the office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it was seeking a contractor to automate background checks of foreigners seeking temporary or permanent entry to the U.S. It outlined plans for mining Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, academic websites and other publicly-available internet data, then using AI techniques to analyze it and to keep monitoring those sources.

This contractor would be expected to generate at least 10,000 investigative leads a year that would be forwarded to federal agents, according to the document.

ICE declined to comment about the proposed initiative or Thursday's letter. Its public presentations to interested vendors haven't been...

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