ICE Drops Extreme Vetting Software Plan After Discovering No One Could Possibly Deliver What It Wants

from the we-have-seen-the-future-and-we-are-disappoint dept

It appears the concept of “extreme vetting” at our borders has been backburnered. The Washington Post is reporting ICE has scrapped plans to acquire software capable of strip-mining immigrants’ social media accounts and converting this info into a RATE MY DANGEROUSNESS number. However, it does not appear the concept is being done away with entirely.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials told tech-industry contractors last summer they wanted a system for their “Extreme Vetting Initiative” that could automatically mine Facebook, Twitter and the broader Internet to determine whether a visitor might commit criminal or terrorist acts or was a “positively contributing member of society.”

But ICE quietly dropped the machine-learning requirement from its request in recent months, opting instead to hire a contractor that can provide training, management and human personnel who can do the job. Federal documents say the contract is expected to cost more than $100 million and be awarded by the end of the year.

No more one-click snooping on entrants. Instead, this job will be farmed out to vendors who will probably never accidentally leak the large amount of personal data they’re collecting for the government. This isn’t a case of ICE/DHS realizing this isn’t just intrusive but unnecessary and quite possibly useless. Instead, this is a case of ICE not liking what vendors had to offer on the software front.

An ICE official briefed on the decision-making process said the agency found there was no “out-of-the-box” software that could deliver the quality of monitoring the agency wanted.

For the time being, it won’t be AIs and algos doing the vetting. Instead, it will be a government contractor doing the work, presumably using some live humans. What ICE was seeking was a mythical piece of software. It wanted a rigorous vetting system that predetermines the risk levels of immigrants at a touch of a button — all without troubling civil liberties and/or conflicting with numerous other databases ICE controls or has access to.

There’s no doubt the government can acquire something that harvests massive amounts of data. The problem is making that data useful, something even our most experienced data harvesters in the NSA frequently have trouble doing. But ICE wanted it to be more than a database of past social media behavior. It wanted the program to hand it a thumbs up/down rating on visa applicants, something that’s not really advisable, if even actually possible. And there doesn’t appear to be anything that fits the description.

“Have they realized only that it doesn’t exist now, which is important in its own right, or have they also recognized that this really was an idea that was built on a complete fantasy?” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, a left-leaning policy institute. “That you can somehow take these hugely disparate sources of information, in lots of different languages, and make a prediction about what somebody’s value and worth is?”

Content moderation, but for humans. That hasn’t worked well anywhere. It usually leads to profiling, false positives, and wastes of the government’s human resources, which are far more limited than its data-hauling capabilities. Extreme vetting isn’t going away. It’s just going be far more iterative than ICE would like, however. Visions of “Minority Report” (and for actual minorities!) have been dashed by the cold water of tech reality. Concerns about mass violations of privacy and civil liberties had nothing to do with this partial reversal of course.

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Comments on “ICE Drops Extreme Vetting Software Plan After Discovering No One Could Possibly Deliver What It Wants”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'You could not possibly pay us enough for THAT.'

Additionally, I suspect that after the Cambridge Analytica thing went public the number of companies interested in offering anything along those lines dropped sharply, figuring that ‘providing software to engage in mass-collection of data from social media’ might not go over so well currently.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sounds like something that would eventually find its way into the realm of spying upon the general public. This will augment your credit score and be used to determine how much you pay for things, or worse, whether you are allowed to purchase it at all.

According to some, 47% of the population are getting handouts from the government and therefore they should not be allowed to purchase certain things that maybe considered extravagant and only for rich folk. We all know that number is bullshit, but what about the somewhere in the teens number that will be subjected to such silliness?

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