Tech experts blast Trump’s extreme vetting plan

Tech experts blast Trump’s extreme vetting plan
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A chorus of technology experts on Thursday heavily criticized President Trump’s plan to use artificial intelligence to screen individuals seeking entry to the United States, calling it “neither appropriate nor feasible.” 

More than 50 computer scientists, engineers and mathematicians wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urging officials to abandon the so-called “Extreme Vetting Initiative” proposal to use data mining to vet immigrants and visa applicants using data from the internet and social media platforms. 

“Simply put, no computational methods can provide reliable or objective assessments of the traits that ICE seeks to measure,” the experts wrote. “In all likelihood, the proposed system would be inaccurate and biased. We urge you to reconsider this program.” 

The department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) published details on the proposed initiative in June, laying out its intention to leverage automation to “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” in order to fulfill Trump’s executive orders on immigration.

The department also intends to use data mining technology to “assess whether an applicant intends to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.” DHS is looking to contract out the services to a private firm.

But the experts argued Thursday that automation would not be able to accurately deliver determinations on any of these fronts. Moreover, they said that algorithms could be leveraged “to arbitrarily flag groups of immigrants under a veneer of objectivity.” 

Joe Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology and one of the letter’s signatories, told The Hill that the initiative is an example of the administration “simply throwing tech at hard problems.”

“We cannot let ourselves get overly intoxicated by the promises of artificial intelligence and machine learning for ferreting out bad guys among the good guys,” Hall said in an email. “The extreme vetting initiative will necessarily catch many, many completely innocent people and is horrible example of a front-line machine intelligence that would be way before its time.”

The experts sent the letter to acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke, who is filling in at the top post as Trump’s choice to lead the department, Kirstjen Nielsen, awaits confirmation by the Senate.