ICE’s Extreme Vetting Initiative will be Inaccurate and Biased — and Civil Rights Groups are Speaking Out

What does it mean to be a “positively contributing member of society” who “makes contributions to the national interest? Under a little-noticed provision in President Trump’s January 2017 executive order known as the Muslim ban, every traveler to the United States would be screened against these criteria.

If you’re baffled by this standard, so are experts, as no law defines what it means to contribute to our society and national interest.

In July, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced it would be using technology like machine learning to automatically vet every visitor to the United States. Under this plan — known as the “Extreme Vetting Initiative” — ICE would continuously scan “media, blogs, public hearings, conferences, academic websites, social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn,” and unidentified “internet sites” to automatically flag a minimum of 10,000 people per year for deportation or visa renewal.

A coalition of civil rights, civil liberties, immigrant rights, and technology organizations — including The Leadership Conference — are calling for a haltto this “Digital Muslim Ban.” They have been joined by 54 tech experts who say that the Extreme Vetting Initiative will be inaccurate and biased — and will flag innocent people.

We hope the administration will listen to leading technologists and advocacy organizations, and will put a stop to this misguided program. As our Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data note, as new technologies allow government to gain greater insight into our lives, it is vitally important that these technologies be used in ways that respect the values of equal opportunity and equal justice. The Digital Muslim Ban, by contrast, will foster discrimination, chill free speech, and threaten basic rights and freedoms.

The jury is still out on whether the nation can shape technology to protect civil rights and solve societal problems, or whether it will allow technology to meld into an inequitable system that supercharges discrimination. But what is clear now is that Extreme Vetting is a giant step in the wrong direction.

This story is cross-posted on our Medium page here.